On Saturday, October 14, 2023 an annular solar eclipse—better known as a Ring Of Fire—will occur within a path that stretches from the north Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic Ocean. Just 125 miles wide, that path will move through Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas before striking Central and South America. You’ll need our Solar Eclipse Glasses for this one because a “ring of fire” is not safe to look at with the naked eye at any time.
Here are 10 strange facts you didn’t know about this odd-looking sight:
1. It will be caused by a “micro Moon”
Onlookers within the path will see a ring around the Moon that will last up to 5 minutes 17 seconds, depending on their exact location (view our suggested locations here), but at no point will the Sun be more than 91% blocked by the Moon. An annular (ring) solar eclipse occurs because the Moon’s orbit of the Earth is elliptical, so sometimes it’s slightly farther away and appears smaller in the sky. Called an apogee new Moon by astronomers, its apparent diameter will be about 4% smaller than on average so won’t cover all of the Sun. Although it’s not a common term, “micro Moon”—the opposite of the widely used term supermoon—helps to explain the phenomenon.
2. The path will cross 29 protected areas
October is a peak time for visiting US National Parks, National Monuments and State Parks. Rather remarkably the eclipse path crosses 29 of them, including:
- Oregon: Crater Lake National Park
- Nevada: Great Basin National Park
- Utah: Bryce Canyon National Park, Kodachrome Basin State Park, Capitol Reef National Park, Goblin Valley State Park, Canyonlands National Park, Natural Bridges National Monument, Goosenecks State Park
- Colorado: Hovenweep National Monument, Mesa Verde National Park
- Arizona: Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park
- New Mexico: Chaco Culture National Park, Petroglyph National Monument
- Texas: Lost Maples State Natural Area
Check Farmers’ Almanac Long Range Weather Forecasts for these regions and plan your adventure today!
3. The Moon’s shadow will slow down as it moves across the US
An eclipse is nothing more than the shadow of the Moon being projected onto the sphere of the Earth as it rotates. It’s therefore a long, fast-moving shadow as it strikes the edge of Earth and a slower and smaller shadow as it moves across the part of Earth closest to it. That has consequences for how long the ‘ring of fire’ is visible.
As this flyover video shows, over Oregon the Moon’s shadow will move at 6,853 mph and the ‘ring of fire’ will be visible for 4 minutes 27 seconds. By the time it leaves Texas it will move at 1,712 mph and the ‘ring of fire’ will be seen for 4 minutes 53 seconds. The peak of the eclipse occurs off Nicaragua when the Moon’s shadow will reach its slowest at 1,251 mph and the ‘ring of fire’ will last longest at 5 minutes 17 seconds.
4. The path crosses that of America’s next total solar eclipse
Although there is some kind of solar eclipse every six months, rarely do the paths of two central eclipses overlap. Exactly 177 days after the annular solar eclipse on October 14, 2023, a total solar eclipse will, on April 8, 2024 cross Mexico, the US and Canada. The paths will cross over 14,000 square miles of Texas Hill Country, with small towns including Vanderpool, Leakey, Utopia, Kerrville, Bandera, Hondo, Uvalde, Camp Wood, Rocksprings and Junction certain to experience both a ‘ring of fire’ and totality inside six months.
5. The “ring of fire” will reflect in America’s deepest lake
The first and arguably the most spectacular view of the ‘ring of fire’ above a US National Park will be Oregon’s Crater Lake National Park. In October it could be snowing, so eclipse-chasers will need to watch the weather, but if it’s clear then from the Watchman Peak Trailhead it will be possible to see the ‘ring of fire’ for 4 minutes 23 seconds just 19 degrees above the southeast horizon reflecting in the clear blue water that goes as deep as 1,943 feet.
6. It will occur over ancient rock art depicting an eclipse
Smack on the centerline is Chaco Culture National Historical Park, New Mexico, where a ‘ring of fire’ will shine for 4 minutes 42 seconds. On a large boulder near its Una Vida ruin is a petroglyph carved by the Ancestral Puebloan that may represent the solar corona as seen during a total solar eclipse in the years 804, 1097, 1257 or 1259.
7. Two rock arches arch will frame a “broken ring“
The Four Corners region crossed by the path is home to many natural bridges and arches, including Natural Bridges National Monument. However, two rock arches in particular will see something special. Mesa Arch, the main attraction of Utah’s Canyonlands National Park, is in the ‘grazing zone’ at the northern limit of the path. From there it will be possible to see a broken ‘ring of fire’ as the mountains of the Moon filter the Sun’s light. Ditto at the southern border at La Ventana Natural Arch near Grants, New Mexico.
8. It will create an optical illusion
What happens during any solar eclipse is that a New Moon crosses the Sun. However, because during an annular solar eclipse, the Moon appears smaller in diameter than the Sun, an optical illusion is seen by observers standing close to the edge of the eclipse’s path. From there, the Moon crosses the Sun to cover most, but not all of its disk, and as it touches the edge of the Sun it can appear to rotate and start going backward. It’s not—it’s just moving across—but because the Sun and Moon are moving independently and it’s all taking place high in the sky with no reference points, the human brain can be fooled.
9. A partial eclipse will be seen from Alaska to Argentina
The ‘ring of fire’ is visible only from within the narrow path that passes through the US, Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Brazil. However, the whole the Americas—from Alaska to Argentina—will see a partial eclipse solar eclipse. Just north of the path, Salt Lake City will see 86% of the Sun blocked by the Moon, with Las Vegas at 82%, Dallas at 80% and Denver at 78%. In Los Angeles, it’s 70% while in New York City it’s 23%. A mineral-rich region of northern Ontario, Canada called Ring of Fire will see a 25% partial solar eclipse.
10. It will be the last “ring of fire” in the US until 2039
Those in the contiguous United States will have to travel to see another ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse after 2023. The next annular solar eclipse visible from the US occurs on June 21, 2039, but only Alaska and northwest Canada will see that one. The US last experienced an annular solar eclipse on May 20, 2012, which was again visible in the US Southwest, though on that occasion was close to sunset.
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Jamie Carter is an expert author and leading eclipse journalist based in the United Kingdom who writes for BBC Sky At Night, Space.com, Forbes.com, Travel+Leisure, and among other popular publications. Carter has written several astronomy books, including The Complete Guide To The Great North American Eclipse of April 8, 2024, When Is The Next Eclipse? When, Where, and How To See Lunar And Solar Eclipses: Travel Guide 2018-2030, and A Stargazing Program For Beginners: A Pocket Guide.