Content warning: This story includes images of an eclipse at the end of this post.
Utahns have a front row seat to an annular eclipse on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 14. This so-called ring-of-fire eclipse is different than the total eclipse of 2017 but will still be spectacular.
“This will be a cool event. You’ll still see the surroundings get darker, you’ll feel it get colder, but you won’t be able to look at the eclipse without protective glasses,” said Paul Ricketts, director of the University of Utah’s South Physics Observatory. “Plus, this will last way longer than the total eclipse.”
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s orbit moves between the sun and the earth so that it blocks out the sun’s light and casts a shadow on Earth’s surface. During an annular eclipse, the moon is at a farther distance from the Earth. The distance makes the moon appear smaller, and it fails to block out the entire sun. The moon looks like a large black disk in front of the bright sun disk. This results in a ‘ring of fire’ around the moon’s silhouette.
“It’s like when you make a circle with your fingers and close one eye. When you move your hand closer to your face, it the circle gets bigger. Move it away, and it appears smaller,” Ricketts said.
Every year the moon drifts slowly farther away from the Earth—around one inch farther per year. Ricketts said that’s one reason to take advantage of these astronomical events while you can.
“Right now, our Earth position with the moon and the sun, they appear the same size in the sky, which is why we can enjoy total eclipses. A few billion years down the road, the moon will appear too small and we’d only get these types of annular eclipses.” Ricketts said. “We’re lucky to be alive right now. In the future, we’d only able to see annular eclipses that look like a much smaller black dot crossing the sun’s surface.”
While many will enjoy viewing the solar spectacle, the event is sacred to some local Indigenous tribes. For Diné (Navajo) and Ute Indian Tribes, an eclipse is a time of renewal and reflection through cultural practices that include fasting and meditation. They do not watch, or even look at, images, video or simulations of eclipses. When posting on social media, be mindful of people who want to avoid such images. Consider using a filter so your followers can opt-in to view any multimedia of the eclipse.
Because the sacred event will be happening on their homeland, the Navajo Tribal Parks and Monuments, including Monument Valley, will be closed on Oct. 14. From 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Learn more about visiting Indigenous homelands with respect here courtesy of the Bears Ears Partnership.
Join the University of Utah Cosmic Ray Group in Delta, UT.
Most of southern Utah is in the path to see the annular eclipse. Find Visit Utah’s map of state and national parks from which to enjoy the astronomical spectacle. The University of Utah’s Cosmic Ray Group will be hosting a viewing party at their headquarters on main street in Delta, UT. The group will have telescopes with safety filters and about 1,000 pairs of eclipse glasses for people to use.
“Delta isn’t in the exact center of the annular eclipse, but you can still see the entire moon,” said Julie Callahan, program coordinator in the Department of Physics & Astronomy at the U. “It’ll be off center, but you’ll see a giant bite taken out of the sun.”
Lon & Mary Watson Cosmic Ray Center
648 W Main St, Delta, UT 84624
How to enjoy the eclipse safely and respectfully (eclipse viewing tips from Visit Utah.)
The eclipse is scheduled to start crossing the sun around 9:00 a.m. It will reach annularity—when it’s centered in front of the sun—at 10:20 a.m. and will last about 4.5 minutes. Keep in mind that everyone in Utah will be driving to see the same event. If you can, get there the night before. Prepare for traffic. Plan a couple hours of activities after the eclipse to avoid the stop-and-go traffic heading back to the Wasatch Front.
Note: it’s never safe to view an eclipse without eye protection. Use eclipse glasses or solar views that have been approved by the American Astronomical Association. If you don’t have eye protection, you can poke a hole in piece of paper and view the shadow on the ground. Or bring a colander or stand under a tree—the shadows that pass through small spaces will project the eclipse. The Planet Fun store has eclipse glasses at the Clarke Planetarium downtown.
When choosing an eclipse viewing spot, keep safety and preparation in mind. Avoid stopping on the highway and be aware of surrounding cliff terrain or wildlife. If you’re venturing into a remote area, you’ll want to research your route and take into account the abilities of everyone in your group (Read: How To Stay Safe in the Outdoors). You’ll also want to avoid areas where obstructions might be in your line of sight, and note that higher elevation can increase cloud coverage. If you intend to watch the eclipse on public lands, check out these tips from BLM Utah.
The duration of annularity — when the moon is fully silhouetted against the sun — can vary depending upon your viewing location, even within the same city. To determine the precise duration of an exact location, check out this interactive eclipse Google map developed by author and astrophotographer Xavier Jubier.
These Utah counties are forecasted to have viewing locations with a duration of four minutes or more: Beaver, Garfield, Juab, Millard, Piute, San Juan, Sevier, Tooele and Wayne. For eclipse duration by city, visit nationaleclipse.com.
The eclipse is scheduled to enter Utah around 9 a.m. MT, with annularity beginning roughly around 10:20 a.m. MT. The eclipse exits the state around 12 noon MT.
The direct path of the eclipse in Utah passes over scenic forest, mountain and desert landscapes. Views promise to be spectacular, but remember to be prepared for limited services in these remote areas. Expect small towns with fewer resources, lots of wilderness area and intermittent cell service. See more responsible travel tips.
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Research communications specialist, University of Utah Communications