'Ring of fire' solar eclipse of 2021 thrills stargazers across North America with sunrise spectacle

The moon blocked part of the sun in a solar eclipse Thursday (June 10), appearing as a partial solar eclipse to potentially millions of spectators and as a stunning “ring of fire” to some well-placed observers.

The annular solar eclipse of 2021 was at its best for spectators in northernmost latitudes — northern Canada, Greenland and Scandinavia — had the best seats. From there, the moon appeared to block (but not fully cover) the sun, leaving a glowing “ring of fire” effect visible around the moon. 

Where weather permitted, a partial eclipse could be seen from northern latitudes in Europe and America. The sight was a special treat for those in eastern parts of North America, where eclipse occurred just as the sun was rising, leading to a spectacular sight.

‘Ring of fire’ solar eclipse 2021: See amazing photos from stargazers

While observers on the U.S. East Coast had to get up early to enjoy the spectacle, they were rewarded with magnificent views of a sunrise eclipse, which at many locations covered over 70% of the sun. However, in the U.S., too, weather conditions tested the early-rising observers’ nerves to the limits. 

Photographer Imelda Joson and husband Edwin Aguirre, both veteran eclipse chasers and sky photographers, observed the eclipse from the Black Falcon Crise Terminal in Boston, Massachusetts and told Space.com how thick clouds emerging shortly before the sunrise nearly spoiled the day for them. 

“[We] arrived at 4:30 a.m. The eastern sky was clear, so we were very optimistic in getting some good shots of the eclipse,” they said. “However, as we got closer to sunrise, thick clouds began building up along the horizon. The sun didn’t clear the cloud bank until just before the maximum eclipse at 5:33 a.m. By then the sun was already quite high and bright so it became a challenge to photograph the solar crescent.”

Despite the early hour, about a dozen people turned up to witness the event. Joson and Aguirre said.

Annular solar eclipses occur when the moon is a bit too close to the Earth to completely block the face of the sun (a total solar eclipse) as seen from our planet’s surface. Instead, it leaves a thin fiery ring called an annulus around the shadowed moon. 

The moon’s orbit around Earth is tilted, so it does not always line up with the sun when it is in its “new” phase. When they align perfectly, we see a total solar eclipse, while other times a partial solar eclipse or annular event like today’s are visible.

In Ronkonkoma, New York, 16-year-old Jason Materazo captured amazing views of the partial solar eclipse at sunrise with a Nikon DSLR camera and a 55 mm telephoto lens. 

“This was our second solar eclipse experience. In August 2017 we traveled from New York to Tennessee to see the total solar eclipse,” Materazo’s father Joseph told Space.com in an email. “We also plan on seeing the April 2024 eclipse. The most exciting moment was when the horns of the rising sun first appeared over the horizon.”

Skywatcher James Logue captured a stunning view of the eclipse from Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, and agreed that the view was amazing, even if it was just a partial eclipse.

“It was thrilling to see the eclipse,” Logue told Space.com in an email. “I knew we would not get the “ring of fire” version; and, because of cloud cover, I was hoping it would not be obscured altogether.”

But those clouds ultimately led to a stunning snapshot, Logue added.

“The clouds we did have actually helped, I think,” he said. “I enjoy photography, and when an event like this comes along, I just have to get out there and take the photos.”

Logue’s photo shows a zoomed in view of the sun through a Nikon CoolPix P1000 camera, which he just bought last month, as the eclipse rose up from behind some mountains. 

“It looked like a sailboat sail for a moment,” he said. “As it rose higher, the eclipse was quite clear and unmistakable.”

In the United Kingdom, typical British weather ruined the experience for most eager skywatchers, who readied their pinhole projectors and welding glasses to observe the modest 25% eclipse shortly after 11 a.m. local time. 

One of these skywatchers was European Space Agency astronaut Tim Peake, who tweeted a recommendation to switch to a NASA webcast instead. 

“If (like me) you’re looking up at cloudy skies, then you can always follow today’s partial #SolarEclipse on the @nasa,” Peake wrote on Twitter.

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The British, however, approached the quintessential British weather with quintessential British humor. 

“For licensing enquiries about my amazing solar eclipse photo, please get in touch,” observer Tony Shepherd wrote on Twitter while sharing a “gorgeous” picture of the cloud coverage.

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But for some, a stroke of almost divine luck intervened at a crucial moment, allowing them to view the eclipse despite the overwhelmingly unfavourable conditions. 

London skygazer and astronomy communicator Tom Kerss, observing from the London borough of Greenwich, tweeted shortly after the eclipse peaked.

“Unbelievable good fortune for a break in the cloud during Greatest Eclipse! Then at 11:14 the cloud rolled back over. Wow! Star-struck #SolarEclipse.”

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He accompanied the tweet with a video of the sun’s crescent emerging in a tiny gap between the clouds before disappearing into the greyness again. 

Jason Betzner, an Earth science teacher and geologist observing the eclipse from Yorktown, Virginia, was also at the mercy of the cloud cover. 

“Had a short, lucky break in the clouds to see the #annulareclipse this morning,” he wrote on Twitter after the peak eclipse at 6:14 AM Eastern Day Time: 

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He accompanied the tweet with a photo of the sun’s crescent peeking through clouds above the horizon.

Also for Mike Cohea, observing from Narragansett, Rhode Island, the eclipsed rising sun emerged from the clouds just in time for a stunning shot. 

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Meteorologist Justin Berk tweeted an eerie picture of the giant solar crescent in the red of the dawn above the skyline of Baltimore.  

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Spaceflight photographer John Kraus shared a similarly powerful shot of the crescent against the amber sky behind the Mackinac Bridge in northern Michigan.

“Today’s stunning #SolarEclipse, seen just after sunrise behind the Mackinac Bridge in northern Michigan,” Kraus tweeted

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Thursday’s annular solar eclipse followed a stunning Super Flower Blood Moon eclipse on May 26, the only total lunar eclipse of the year. There will be one more solar eclipse in 2021, but it will be the Southern Hemisphere’s turn to see the sun blocked by the moon. 

A total solar eclipse will occur on Dec. 4, and while it could be even more impressive than Thursday’s event, it will be difficult to see at its best. The path of totality for the will only be visible from parts of Antarctica and the nearby ocean.

Source: Space.com

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