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Annular solar eclipse
A montage of images shows the progression of an annular solar eclipse in May 2012, as seen from Red Bluff, Calif. (Brocken Inaglory Photo via Wikimedia – CC BY-SA 3.0)

Skywatchers in South America and Africa will be seeing an unusual “Ring of Fire” solar eclipse on Sunday, and the rest of us should be able to look over their shoulders online.

But you might have to get up before sun-up to catch the show.

Sunday’s event is known as an annular solar eclipse, with “annular” coming from the Latin word for “ring.”

All solar eclipses take place when the moon comes between Earth and the sun, blocking out the sun’s disk. If the orbital mechanics are such that the moon totally blocks the disk, that’s a total eclipse. But if the moon is too far away from Earth to cover all of the sun, the bright edge of the disk is still exposed at the height of the event. Hence the ring of fire.

That ring is visible only from a track of territory that’s no more than 55 miles wide. A partial eclipse is visible along a wider track, but North Americans will be totally out of luck this time around. Check out Xavier Jubier’s interactive Google map for the details.

If you’re in Chile or Argentina in South America, or Angola, Zambia or the Democratic Republic of Congo in Africa, good for you. But even if you’re in Seattle, you should be able to see the spectacle online.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O5MhzpbSeVI&feature=youtu.be

The Slooh virtual observatory will be live-streaming views from the eclipse zone on Sunday, starting bright and early at 4 a.m. PT. TimeAndDate.com is providing an alternative video stream in partnership with Slooh, starting at 4:10 a.m. PT.

You don’t have to get up quite that early to see the ring, which is visible only for a minute or so during the peak of the eclipse. That peak comes a few minutes after 5:30 a.m. PT for South America, and around 8:25 a.m. PT for Africa.

Live video coverage is due to end around 9:35 a.m. PT. Even if you miss the eclipse in real time, you can catch up with the recorded video, plus the still imagery that will undoubtedly be posted to sites such as SpaceWeather.com.

Consider the Ring of Fire to be a warmup for the total solar eclipse that will be visible in the United States on Aug. 21. The great thing about this summer’s eclipse is that you don’t have to see it online. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout North America, and if you can get to the track of totality – which runs from Oregon to South Carolina – you should do it.

It’s not too early to make your plans. Check out our T-minus-1-year preview and this week’s six-month countdown for August’s totally all-American eclipse.

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