Facts vs Fiction – Annular Eclipse, June 20-21, 2020

The goal of this website and social media posts is always to promote celestial events that even dedicated observers will say they’re worth checking out.

From time to time, I will call out and combat headlines published on other websites that twist and/or hide the facts to make something seem more spectacular than it actually will be. In this case, it’s not a matter of saying the celestial event won’t happen, it’s more of an attempt to give the inexperienced observer the true facts so they know what to expect! People like us just want the correct information passed on!

Why do I do it? Someone has to!


I normally won’t talk about celestial events that are not visible over North America – I’m not usually interested if I can’t observe or work with it. But this event is definitely an exception.

There is a particularly special Annular “Ring of Fire” Solar Eclipse about to happen on Summer Solstice (or winter solstice for you Aussies!). Because the central path will move though locations like Africa, The Arabian Peninsula, India, Tibet, and China, it will NOT be visible for anyone in the western hemisphere – it’ll occur while it’s night time over the USA. But that won’t stop people from wanting to acknowledge it for various romanticized reasons, and good for them!

What will actually make this eclipse special is the fact that the max eclipse will be 98.81% covered, hence the actual “Ring of Fire” will be very thin. The actual max eclipse itself will only last as little as 38 seconds. Some would even say that it can be possible to observe “near totality effects” like Baily’s Beads, shadow bands, and the eerie fast dimming/brightening that occurs just before and after totality. Heck, I’d gladly travel to go see it and record it if I had the money.

However, these effects will only be possibly observed where the Moon’s obscuration will be greatest. Places at or near greatest eclipse like India, Pakistan, Nepal, and Tibet will have that chance. Places experiencing the annular eclipse at or near sunrise/sunset will have the obscuration down to 95%, hence a thicker ring and a brighter annular eclipse.

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But with the onslaught of click-bait articles on their way, you can use this writing to help you figure out which articles are legitimate, which are just cherrypicking, and which will hide key facts that people need to know.

Things That Are Correct
  • If an article about this Annular Eclipse mentions that it’s nicknamed a “Ring of Fire” Eclipse due to the Moon not being big enough to cover the Sun due to its farther distance than normal. this is correct! 
    • The word “Annular” comes from the Latin name for ring (Annulus)… hence the name “ring of fire.”
  • If the article mentions that under no circumstance will the eclipse be safe to view with the naked eye… that is correct.
    • You will need to view through a safe method of choice (eclipse viewers, solar filters, etc.)
  • If they tell you that if you’re outside the central path that you will only experience a partial – that is correct! 
    • Usually, it is up to you to find out what time the eclipse starts over your location, and if you need to travel to experience the max possible eclipse. Timeanddate.com is an excellent resource that will help you.
Things That Are Incorrect
  • If the headline or article at some point mentions “the sky will darken” even in a poetic sense… this is mostly incorrect – if it doesn’t specifically mention where!
      • As said before, the places that will experience a very thin “Ring of Fire” will have a chance for those effects we associate with near totality. But most locations experiencing the annular eclipse, and especially those outside the path witnessing a partial will only see the sky dim slightly, and chances are if the observer is unaware an eclipse is going on, they may ignore the dimming that feels like a cloud just moved over.
  • If the article mentions the “Ring of Fire” or Annular Eclipse, but the featured image is actually a total eclipse, especially if it’s showing the “diamond ring effect” that only occurs before and after a total eclipse… this is obviously incorrect! 
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Know the Difference!
  • If you see any article about this annular eclipse that throws around the word “totality” as if that’s what you’re experiencing, that is misleading! You don’t experience totality during an annular eclipse, you experience ANNULARITY! There are huge crucial differences between the two.
    • During Totality, the Sun is completely covered and safe to view without protection… but NOT during Annularity!
    • As the sky remains bright, an Annular Eclipsed Sun also remains very bright. Once more, that same person  who is unaware an eclipse was going on would look at the Sun and think it looks normal.
    • Pinhole projections that create those many crescents through the shadows during a partial eclipse will disappear during Totality, but during Annularity, the crescents all become little ringlets for up to a few minutes!

If you don’t believe me when I say the sky does not usually darken during an Annular Eclipse… here are two images. The first one was from May 20, 2012, and the second image is from August 21, 2017.

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This is the picture my family took in front of the Annular Eclipse of 2012. As you can tell, the 87% covered Sun is still very bright and overwhelming to the camera. Notice that white circle in front of the old man? That’s actually a lens reflection of the Sun’s disc during Annularity! That’s how small the Sun’s disc actually is in that picture!

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See the difference?! The Sun’s disc is actually same size in both photos taken with a cell phone! The difference is how much light was entering the camera! While yes, you can argue that a ~97% covered Sun is still much dimmer than an 87% covered Sun, once more you have to imagine what would it be like if someone was unaware an eclipse was going on.

Speaking from personal experience, the sky for me didn’t really start becoming eerily darker until the Moon covered more than 99% of the Sun’s disc. Most of the time, the sky remained bright, the dimming and brightening was slow and steady and was unnoticeable if you weren’t paying attention.

 

But wait, you say… you’re telling me that you’ve seen images like the few shown above? The images of Annular Eclipses that still show a dark sky, clouds, and surrounding landscapes? 

It’s all photography tricks, son!

To achieve an image such as those in a safe manner without exposing the camera lens to too much Solar radiation, the photographer most likely uses a filter to make sure the disc or “ring of fire” is in focus, sets the aperture, ISO, and shutter speed way down, increases the f/stop to make light travel slower through the lens, and then takes a quick snap without the filter before immediately putting the filter back on (too much solar radiation exposure can actually damage the lens!). These images above are awesome works of art, but they are NOT true representations of what an Annular Eclipse will look like to the unaided eye!

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If someone tells you they wouldn’t know the difference between a less than total eclipse versus a total, they’re being ignorant and haven’t experienced it. If you say that I’m wrong, then you’re saying I didn’t actually travel, experience, and record my share of images and/or videos surrounding each eclipse!

So yes, if you are reading this and happen to be within reasonable traveling distance from the central path of Annularity, by all means don’t miss the chance. While they are not even close to as spectacular their total counterparts, Annular Eclipses are still a level above a mere partial. If you’re paying attention, then there’s a lot around you that you can notice on top of the phenomena that only occur during solar eclipses

Yours truly will gladly wait for the next wave of Solar Eclipses in 2023 and 2024 over the USA! If anything, I’ll be interested to hear about observations from all points along the path for the Summer Solstice Ring of Fire Eclipse for 2020, and will want to know if people did indeed see Baily’s Beads or if the sky did indeed get eerily dark for a few minutes. Unlike most people, I’m okay with being proven wrong – it’s how we move forward in knowledge!

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