It’s been described as looking like a bicycle wheel on fire. On Thursday, December 26, 2019, people in southeast Philippines will see a huge partial solar eclipse as the sun gets partly covered by the moon for a few hours. Anyone with eclipse glasses in certain areas of the Middle East, India, China, Southeast Asia and Australia will also get to witness this phenomenon. However, those within 113-km eclipse path that stretches 113km wide will see a very special “ring of fire”.
This astronomical event is called an annular solar eclipse. It’s different from a total solar eclipse, where the moon completely blocks out the sun for a few minutes. All solar eclipses are caused by a new moon, which is when the moon drifts directly between the earth and the sun, with its illuminated side facing away from us. The moon’s slightly elliptical orbit means that it appears smaller than the sun from our vantage point at certain periods of each lunar orbit. When this coincides with the moon moving in front of the sun, what results is an annular solar eclipse — the moon framed by a fiery circle of the sun’s outer edges.
If the skies are clear, you can expect a big partial eclipse to be visible everywhere in the Philippines. In Manila, at 12.32pm, the moon will begin to move across the sun. By 2.19pm, 60% of the sun will be covered before the moon passes by completely by 3.47pm. In Cebu City, the spectacle will begin at 12.39pm, peak at 76% coverage at 2.27pm, and end at 3.54pm. But the eclipse will be best viewed close to General Santos City, in South Cotabato. There, the event will occur from around 12.43pm to 3.57pm, with an impressive 92% eclipse taking place at 2.30pm. From GenSan itself, the eclipse will look like a flipped letter “C”. Southeast of the city, observers should be able to see a perfect, fiery circle around the moon, as 94% of the sun is covered by it. Minutes before the event occurs, you can expect the skies to darken around GenSan.
To see the ring of fire, you’ll need to drive along the Sarangani-Davao del Sur Coastal Road south from GenSan, along Sarangani Bay, for about 100km. Batulaki Beach in Glan, Sarangani, is a good place to set up your temporary observatory, as would be Kabuntalan Beach Resort or the beach at Kamalian, both in Davao del Sur. The ring will also be visible along the coasts of Balut and Sarangani islands across the Sarangani Strait.
Pray for clear skies because an annular eclipse won’t be seen in the Philippines again until February 28, 2063, while the next total solar eclipse will be on April 20, 2042.
What Will I See?
Partial Solar Eclipse — Almost everyone in the Philippines will see a partial solar eclipse. Over the course of a few hours, the moon will “kiss” the sun and pass across it.
Annular Solar Eclipse — If you’re going to be southeast of GenSan, in the path of annularity — or maybe in Singapore — you’ll be seeing a partial solar eclipse that peaks as a beautiful “ring of fire”, a glowing circle around the moon.
Crescent Sun — If you’re in GenSan or somewhere close to the path of annularity, you’ll see a partial solar eclipse that will peak as a flipped “C”. The sun will appear as a slim crescent for a few minutes.
Safety Glasses First
The only safe way to look directly at the sun during an annular solar eclipse is to do so through special-purpose solar filters — such as eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers. These specialized forms of eyewear have lenses that are many times darker than regular sunglasses, which don’t offer the necessary protection.
Ask The Expert
Q: What advice do you have for viewers in Southeast Asia?
The sun will be high in the sky, which will make the eclipse easy to see. I recommend finding a spot near a large body of water — either a big lake or on the seashore. Tip: This eclipse path won’t stretch over the main islands, so you’ll have to head out of the more populated areas to catch the occurrence in all its beauty.
Q: How important is it to be on the centerline?
Being near the centerline (or right in the middle of the eclipse path) is not a necessity unless you prefer the aesthetics of a symmetrical ring and are looking for a longer duration of the eclipse. First-timers should focus on finding a location that has clear skies. xjubier.free.fr/ase2019map
— Xavier Jubier, eclipse chaser and member of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Solar Eclipses
This story first appeared in the November 2019 issue of Smile magazine.