If you enjoy celestial events, you likely marked your calendar for the morning of Saturday, October 14, 2023, the date of an annular, or “Ring of Fire,” solar eclipse. Fortunately for those in Albuquerque, the path of the eclipse came right through the city. In fact, visitors from around the world planned trips to New Mexico simply to view it.
In this phenomenon, the Moon aligned with the Sun but didn’t cover it completely, revealing a luminous Ring of Fire. This Ring of Fire had the potential of harming eyes without appropriate safety measures, so special glasses were recommended and made available to allow people to view this breathtaking event.
Here, we’ll delve into the intricacies of a solar eclipse, the types, and where in New Mexico people could go to witness the Ring of Fire. Additionally, thanks to the Public Lands Interpretive Association, we’ll guide you to prime public lands in the western U.S. ideal for eclipse viewing.
The Science Behind a Solar Eclipse
When the Moon journeys across the Sun from our Earthly perspective, a solar eclipse ensues. This alignment is exclusive to the New Moon phase. Were the Moon’s orbit perfectly aligned with Earth’s, every New Moon would bring an eclipse. But, owing to the tilt of the Moon’s trajectory, perfect alignments are infrequent. The Moon’s shadow, due to its size and distance, touches only specific regions on Earth during an eclipse.
For a perspective: If you visualized Earth and the Moon with a 10-inch distance between them, the Sun would span 3 feet in diameter and be located 324 feet away. This demonstrates the precision needed for a solar eclipse to manifest.
Types of Solar Eclipses
Eclipses come in three forms: partial, annular, and total. The exact nature depends on one’s location relative to the Moon’s shadow. The Moon’s elliptical orbit around Earth, which causes its perceived size to vary, plays a vital role. Due to a cosmic coincidence, the Sun and Moon, though vastly different in actual size, appear roughly the same from Earth. An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon appears slightly smaller than the Sun. However, if the Moon seemed larger, it would veil the Sun entirely, resulting in a total eclipse.
The Public Lands Interpretive Association is a nonprofit dedicated to enlightening and motivating visitors to America’s public territories.
While people in Albuquerque witnessed the Ring of Fire, eclipse viewers in other parts of New Mexico likely saw only a partial shade. Regions from Farmington through Albuquerque to Roswell lie within the central path of the annular eclipse, which can be traced on a map of New Mexico. This astronomical event, from the first touch of the Moon’s shadow to its exit, spanned approximately 3 hours. Those fortunate enough to be in the annular path reveled in the Ring of Fire for up to 5 minutes, depending on their proximity to the path’s heart.
The Public Lands Interpretive Association website offers a map and insights into public lands, both within and outside New Mexico, ideal for eclipse observation. Notable landmarks include the Salinas Pueblo Missions and Aztec Ruins National Monuments. Find more public lands in the annular eclipse path in New Mexico, Utah, California, and Oregon on the Public Lands Interpretive Association’s website.
Never view the sun directly without protective eyewear. Safe viewing requires specialized eclipse glasses or indirect viewing techniques like a pinhole projector.
Community events organized by educational institutions, museums, and astronomical societies often facilitate safe viewing. Instruments like telescopes and binoculars require specific solar filters for safe solar observation. However, these solar filters are not inexpensive and most telescopes are not sold with a proper solar filter, so it’s best to find a group that has purchased proper equipment and knows how to use it safely.
While solar eclipses aren’t rare, annular eclipses over New Mexico are. The last one was in 2012, and the next one won’t be until 2077. Albuquerque, interestingly, lies in the center of both the 2012 and 2023 annual eclipses and the 2077 eclipse will also pass through Albuquerque. As for total eclipses, New Mexico has to wait until 2169. But there’s a silver lining: a total eclipse will pass through neighboring regions in 2024.
An annular eclipse highlights the Ring of Fire, whereas a total one darkens the sky enough to reveal the Sun’s corona. The upcoming 2024 event offers 4 minutes of this spectacle. Although securing accommodations might be challenging due to the event’s popularity, those in Albuquerque can safely view the partial eclipse with the right precautions.
When equipped with the right knowledge and tools, witnessing the alignment of Earth, Moon, and Sun becomes a sublime experience.
Article and illustrations by Dr. Chas Miller, New Mexico State University Astronomy Department.