PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — On Saturday, a rare “ring of fire” eclipse of the sun will cut across the Americas, stretching from Oregon to Brazil. Huge crowds have already started moving before dawn in cities, rural areas, and national parks, eager to catch a glimpse of this celestial event.
Small towns and cities along the path of the eclipse are filled with excitement, but also have concerns about the weather and the potential overwhelming influx of visitors. Clouds and fog threaten to obscure the view of the eclipse in some western states, including California and Oregon.
Unlike a total solar eclipse, during a ring of fire eclipse, the moon doesn’t completely cover the sun. Instead, it leaves a bright, blazing border when it aligns between Earth and the sun.
The path of the eclipse on Saturday includes Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas in the U.S., with a sliver of California, Arizona, and Colorado. It will then move on to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, and Brazil. The rest of the Western Hemisphere will experience a partial eclipse.
Eclipse enthusiasts from all over the U.S. have traveled to remote corners of the country for the best view possible. At Bryce Canyon national park in southern Utah, enthusiasts hit the trail before sunrise to stake out their preferred spot. The tiny lights along the well-known trail created a mesmerizing sight.
John Edwards, a cancer drug developer who traveled alone across the country to see the eclipse from Bryce Canyon, said, “I just think it’s one of those things that unites us all. Seeing these rare unique experiences is what brought me here. This is about as rare as it gets.”
Clear skies are essential for viewing the eclipse, but some parts of the U.S. path may experience clouds. NASA and other groups have planned to livestream the event for those unable to see it in person.
Due to the chance of rain, the small town of Reedsport near Oregon’s Pacific Coast has moved its eclipse festival indoors to avoid getting soaked in the mud. However, they still hope to catch a glimpse of the eclipse.
Weather is less of a concern in tiny Baker, Nevada, where the population is only around 100. Inn and general store owner Liz Woolsey has planned various activities, including a drum circle and a dance party, for eclipse watchers. All seven of her rooms have been booked for over a year.
Viewers on the East Coast are prepared to see a partial eclipse, with areas like New York City expecting close to a quarter of the sun to be covered. In Maine, the Clark Telescope at the University of Maine’s Versant Power Astronomy Center is open to the public for viewing, despite only projecting about 12% coverage of the sun.
“As the Moon passes between the Earth and the sun, it casts its shadow on our planet,” said Shawn Laatsch, director of the Versant Power Astronomy and the Maynard Jordan Planetarium. “In a very real sense, solar eclipses are ‘made in the shade’ of the moon.”
Tens of thousands of people in Albuquerque, New Mexico could experience a double treat. The city’s annual air balloon fiesta, which ends this weekend, coincides with the eclipse. Hundreds of colorful hot air balloons will lift off around dawn, hours before the skies are briefly dimmed by the eclipse.
In Colombia’s Tatacoa desert, astronomers are helping visually impaired people experience the eclipse through raised maps and temperature changes. Meanwhile, at the Cancun Planetarium, young visitors are building box projectors to indirectly and safely view the ring of fire. The ancient Maya, who referred to eclipses as “broken sun,” may have used dark volcanic glass for eye protection.
Towns and national parks in the path of the eclipse are preparing for large crowds. Officials in Oregon’s Klamath County have urged residents to stock up on groceries and fill their gas tanks in case of traffic congestion. Bryce Canyon in Utah expects Saturday to be its busiest day of the year, and Brazil’s Pedra da Boca state park anticipates a surge in visitors.
The entire eclipse, from the moment the moon starts to obscure the sun until it returns to normal, lasts 2 1/2 to 3 hours at any given spot. The ring of fire portion lasts from 3 to 5 minutes, depending on location.
Next April, a total solar eclipse will cross the U.S. in the opposite direction, starting in Mexico and ending in eastern Canada. The next ring of fire eclipse is scheduled for October next year at the southernmost tip of South America, with Antarctica experiencing one in 2026. It will be 2039 before another ring of fire is visible in the U.S., with Alaska being the only state in its direct path.
Whittle reported from Portland, Maine. AP reporters Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, Brady McCombs in Garfield County, Utah, Astrid Suarez in Bogota, Colombia, María Verza in Cancun, Mexico, and Mauricio Savarese in Sao Paulo, Brazil, contributed.
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