‘Ring of Fire' Solar Eclipse: Expert Answers Questions About Thursday's Spectacle

The Chicago area will be treated to a partial solar eclipse on Thursday morning, but residents have plenty of questions about the upcoming celestial event.

In order to answer those questions, NBC 5 reached out to Adler Planetarium Director of Public Observing Michelle Nichols to find out what exactly Chicagoans can expect, what is so special about a “Ring of Fire” eclipse, and what residents will have to do if they want to catch a glimpse of the show, which will be underway when the sun rises at 5:18 a.m. Thursday.

What is going to happen on Thursday morning?

What is going to happen is that a solar eclipse will occur over the Chicago area. We’re only going to see a little bit of it. As the sun rises, the moon will be partly blocking a little bit of the sun. As the sun continues to rise, the moon will continue to move away from the sun.

This eclipse will be over in literally 20 minutes (for us), but the eclipse itself is occurring for a good portion of the east and northeastern United States and Canada. Up in Canada is where you will see the “Ring of Fire” version.

What is so unique about a “Ring of Fire” eclipse?

This is a different kind of eclipse than we maybe saw in 2017 when everybody congregated down in Carbondale. It’s still a solar eclipse. If it partly covers the sun, it’s a partial eclipse, and if it totally covers the sun, that’s a total solar eclipse.

In this one, the moon is a little bit further away in its orbit around the Earth at that particular point. When that happens, the moon is not big enough to completely cover the sun. So depending on where you are in Canada, if you’re within its path, you’ll see the moon mostly cover the sun, leaving a ring of light around the moon.

We call that an “annular eclipse,” which comes from the Latin word annulus, which means “ring,” as in “Ring of Fire.”

Where will you be able to see the actual “Ring of Fire” around the moon?

It’s going to start up a little bit north of Lake Superior (in Canada), and going toward the northeast. It’s going to be best viewed in mostly remote areas of Canada.

The eclipse will start before the sun is even up in Chicago. How much of this will we be able to see?

Without attaching hard numbers to it, when the sun rises, the moon will cover maybe a third or a quarter (of the sun). The sun will rise like that, and the moon will continue moving away from the sun, so about 20 minutes after sunrise, it will be over.

Where is the best place to see the eclipse in our area?

The best place to go to see this is anywhere where you have a clear view of the northeastern horizon, right down to the horizon. The lakefront (Lake Michigan) in Chicago would be good. Anywhere where you can get up on a little rise or a hill, because you don’t want buildings or trees in the way.

What kind of gear do people need in order to safely view the eclipse?

More than likely, the only way you’re going to see it is if you have solar viewing glasses, even if they’re left over from 2017. As long as you’ve kept them dry and there’s no pinholes or scratches in the glasses material, you’re good.

Just shine a really bright flashlight through them, and if you can’t see pinholes and scratches, (you can use them).

In terms of a pinhole projector (using a hole in an object like a paper plate to cast light on another solid object), the sun may not be high enough and bright enough in order to really see a good view.

Remember: it is NOT safe to look directly at the eclipse with your eyes. Never do that.

Is there a place nearby that Chicago area residents could go to in order to get a better look at the eclipse?

The farther north you are in Wisconsin and Michigan, especially in Michigan, the better. The closer you get to that path, the better.

If Chicago area residents can’t see this solar eclipse, when will they have another opportunity to see one?

The next two really decent solar eclipses in our area will be Oct. 14, 2023. It’s a Saturday, and it will be mid-to-late morning when that one starts. In Chicago, the moon will cover approximately 43% of the sun.

The next one after that will be April 8, 2024. In that one, 94% of the sun will be covered by the moon. That will be fantastic, and the path for totality for that one is even closer to Chicago than the 2017 eclipse was.

You can do down to Indianapolis and be in the path of totality, because that path will run from southwest to northeast in the state. It’s an easy three-hour drive, and that one will go over some major cities. The path of totality will also go over Carbondale again, so there’s no harm in going down to Southern Illinois either!

In terms of totality, that eclipse will last almost twice as long as the 2017 one did, so it will last a little over four minutes.

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