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Look to the skies: An annular solar eclipse is coming to our region

L.S. Crumpler
New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science
The "ring of fire" from the annular solar eclipse hangs above the Rio Puerco Valley on May 20, 2012 in New Mexico. This was the last annular solar eclipse that appeared in the Western United States; another annular eclipse touched the Northeastern side of the country on June 10, 2021.

An annular solar eclipse will pass most of the states in the Mountain West Saturday.

The eclipse will take place around 10:30 a.m. Mountain Time, and will be visible most prominently in Nevada, Utah and New Mexico. It will also touch the Southwest corners of Colorado and Idaho, near Cortez and Riddle, respectively. In the rest of Colorado and Idaho, about 80% of the sun will be obscured. Onlookers in Wyoming will only see a partial eclipse, with around 70-80% of the sun obscured, depending on the location.

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An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the Sun when it is farthest away from Earth, according to NASA. When this happens, the moon is smaller than the Sun but does not cover it, creating a unique effect.

“What you'll see are the partial phases and the moon and start to slide over and you see bits, chunks of the sun covered, until finally at maximum annual clarity, you'll see a ring of fire in the sky,” said Stephen Snider, president of the Albuquerque Astronomical Society. “That's where the annular comes from, from the Latin [word] ‘annulus,’ which means ring.”

Stephen Snider
The Albuquerque Astronomical Society
A photo inside Stephen Snider's telescope during the last annular solar eclipse on May 20, 2012 in New Mexico. The word "annular" comes from the Latin word "annulus," which means ring.

This ‘ring of fire’ will only stay that way for about four minutes before going to a partial eclipse. It won’t completely cover the sun, so it will not be super dark outside, Snider said.

The last annular solar eclipse in the Western United States was in 2012. The next one will not occur until 2039, but will only be visible o in Alaska. This type of eclipse occurs every one to two years internationally.

For those who want to look at the eclipse, Snider said sunglasses will not be enough. People should use eyewear with a tested and approved ISO number when staring at the sun. Solar eclipse glasses are the best, but he said he’s seen people use welding helmets or even a colander before to help block out the sun.

He also suggested that people check local astronomical societies for watch parties. In 2012, his organization partnered with the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science for a party, and it was very popular.

Stephen Snider
The Albuquerque Astronomical Society
Snider stands by a telescope at the watch party put on by the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science on May 20, 2012. This year, there will be more than one watch party location coordinated by the museum.

“We had one big location south of the Albuquerque airport, and we had 5,000 people show up,” Snider said. “If you can observe with a group of folks, and especially if you have some people who are somewhat knowledgeable about what this eclipse is all about, that would be a real added plus.”

To watch NASA’s livestream of the event, and get more information about the annular eclipse, visit this website.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Nevada Public Radio, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, KUNC in Colorado and KANW in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I'm the General Assignment Reporter and Back-Up Host for KUNC, here to keep you up-to-date on news in Northern Colorado — whether I'm out in the field or sitting in the host chair. From city climate policies, to businesses closing, to the creativity of Indigenous people, I'll research what is happening in your backyard and share those stories with you as you go about your day.