The next new moon will fall on February 26, 2017, to usher in the first of two solar eclipses in 2017. It will be an annular eclipse, nowadays often called a ring of fire eclipse. During an annular eclipse, the outer edge of the sun appears as a thin ring (annulus) of sunshine around the moon. An annular eclipse is, essentially, a special type of partial eclipse. At no time will the sky grow dark, and you’ll need continual eye protection to watch it, assuming you’re in a place on Earth where the eclipse is visible. The February 26 eclipse will be visible from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere, mainly over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
On land, the annular eclipse will be viewed from southern South America (Chile, Argentina) and the southeastern part of Africa (Angola, Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo). A partial solar eclipse will be visible from a much larger swath of South America and Africa, plus Antarctica. For eclipse times, click here.
Also see the map and animation below.
The year’s second solar eclipse will take place on August 21, exactly six lunar or synodic months (new moons) after the solar eclipse on February 26. This six-month eclipse cycle is called the semester.
Both of these solar eclipses in 2017 are central eclipses, whereby the new moon swings directly in front of the sun. However, the solar eclipse on February 26 will be an annular as opposed to the total solar eclipse on August 21.
During an annular eclipse, the moon lies too far distant to completely cover over the sun’s disk, so there’s a thin ring (annulus) of sunshine surrounding the new moon silhouette. During a total solar eclipse, on the other hand, the moon comes close enough to Earth to totally cover over the solar disk.
Some people claim that the changing distance of the moon from Earth has no real visual impact in our sky. Obviously, that’s not true when it comes to an annular (ring of fire) eclipse versus a total solar eclipse.
Bottom line: The February 26, 2017 annular solar eclipse – aka a ring of fire eclipse – will be visible from parts of Earth’s Southern Hemisphere. The eclipse path is mainly over the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, also Chile, Argentina, Angola, Zambia, Democratic Republic of the Congo. A partial solar eclipse will be visible from a much larger swath of South America and Africa, plus Antarctica.
Bruce McClure has served as lead writer for EarthSky's popular Tonight pages since 2004. He's a sundial aficionado, whose love for the heavens has taken him to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia and sailing in the North Atlantic, where he earned his celestial navigation certificate through the School of Ocean Sailing and Navigation. He also writes and hosts public astronomy programs and planetarium programs in and around his home in upstate New York.