Mere weeks after last month’s “super flower blood moon,” people across the Northern Hemisphere will have a chance this week to catch another skywatching spectacle: 2021’s first solar eclipse.
A so-called annular solar eclipse will take place early Thursday when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, blocking out the sun’s light and casting a shadow over the planet.
The event is sometimes known as a “ring of fire” eclipse, because the moon appears smaller than the sun in the sky and so does not fully block the sun’s light, appearing instead as a dark disk with a dramatic, orangey-red ring of sunlight surrounding it.
Weather permitting, skywatchers in parts of Canada, Greenland and northern Russia will be able to see the annular eclipse. It will begin at 4:12 a.m. ET; the “ring of fire” will occur at 4:41 a.m. ET and last a little less than four minutes.
People elsewhere in the Northern Hemisphere, including the U.S. and much of Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia and northern Africa, will have the chance to experience a partial solar eclipse. During a partial eclipse, the moon will appear to take a dark bite out of the sun, covering only part of its surface rather than creating the ring effect.
In the U.S., a partial solar eclipse will be visible in parts of the Southeast, the Northeast and the Midwest and in northern Alaska, according to NASA. Because the celestial show is happening before, during and shortly after sunrise, people should try to get a clear view of the horizon to see the partial eclipse, NASA officials said in a statement.
And as with any solar eclipse, it’s important to never gaze directly at the sun, even when it is partly or mostly covered by the moon. Special eclipse glasses or a pinhole projector are required to safely view a solar eclipse and prevent eye damage.
This week’s event, the first of two solar eclipses in 2021, is the first solar eclipse visible in the U.S. since 2017. A total solar eclipse will occur on Dec. 4, but it will be visible only over Antarctica.