Although most parts of the US and Europe don’t experience eclipses very regularly (in fact, the US hasn’t had a coast-to-coast total solar eclipse since 1918), they’re actually a fairly frequent occurrence. Indeed, every 18 months or so there is one total solar eclipse and one annular eclipse somewhere on earth.
On 26 February, 2017, it’s Patagonia’s turn.
But what is a solar eclipse and how does it differ from an annular eclipse?
A solar eclipse is perhaps the better known of the two. A full solar eclipse is when the moon’s shadow crosses the sun and obscures it completely for a short period of time. Alternatively, a partial solar eclipse occurs when the moon doesn’t align exactly with the center of the sun and instead sits a little too high or low to completely cover it.
In both instances, by blocking the sun’s rays, the part of the planet experiencing the eclipse is sunk into darkness.
An annular eclipse, on the other hand, is similar to a solar eclipse, but occurs when the moon is further from the earth. Although the moon aligns directly with the center of the sun, as in a full solar eclipse, it is unable to completely conceal it. Instead, a ring of the sun’s rays around the edges of the moon remain visible, a feature known as a “ring of fire” or annulus by astronomers.
Patagonia’s annular solar eclipse
On 26 February 2017, parts of the southern hemisphere will be treated to an annular solar eclipse. Although it will be visible from southern and western regions of Africa, areas of the Indian Ocean and southern parts of South America, Chilean Patagonia has been declared the best location for watching.
Experts are suggesting that the Patagonian city of Coyhaique, in the remote Aysen Region, will be where the totality of the eclipse (the coveted sight of the moon surrounded by a thin rim of light) will be most visible.
However, most of Chile, including specifically the regions of Los Lagos, Magallanes and Araucanía will still witness a spectacle that few people see even once in a lifetime.
The whole eclipse will take little over two-and-a-half hours to complete, with it first starting to be visible from around 9:20am in the Chilean capital, Santiago, and finishing at midday. For those lucky enough to be watching, a summer’s morning will temporarily turn to night time.
How to watch the annular solar eclipse in Chile
Staring directly at the sun is never advisable, so to safely watch the annular eclipse, protective eyewear, such as eclipse glasses, is essential. Although they might offer UV protection, sunglasses are not strong enough to avoid damaging your eyes.
Astronomers suggest that the safest way to watch the event is through a homemade pinhole camera. For instructions about building your own piece of solar eclipse viewing ‘technology’, Space.com have an excellent guide.
Future annular and total solar eclipses
If you can’t make it to Patagonia for February 2017 and you’re a US resident, you’re in luck. The country is set to see its first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in almost 100 years on August 21, 2017.
But if you’re in need of an excuse to come back to Patagonia, the region will experience a total solar eclipse on July 2, 2019.