It was billed as an 'Enchanted Eclipse' and on the morning of Saturday, Oct. 14, amateur and professional astronomers and celestial observers alike gathered by the thousands on UNM’s Johnson Field for a spectacular view of the annular eclipse that formed a “ring of fire” when the moon blocked out most of the sun when it passed in front of it.    

In addition to Albuquerque, the eclipse, which started at 9:13 a.m. local time, was visible in a number of major U.S. cities, including Eugene, Oregon, San Antonio, Texas, Mexico, and many countries in South and Central America. It peaked at 10:36 a.m. and lasted for nearly five minutes. The celestial show was over by 12:09 p.m.

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An amateur astronomer prepares his telescope to view the eclipse.

Eclipses occur due to the coincidence of the Moon and the Sun being the same angular size. The Sun is approximately 400 times wider than the Moon, but it is also about 400 times farther away, so they appear to be the same size in our sky. This is what allows the Moon to completely block the Sun during total solar eclipses.

Annular eclipses from Earth are special in terms of their astronomical transit. An annular solar eclipse happens when the Moon passes or transits between the Sun and Earth while the Moon is at its farthest point from Earth. Because the Moon is farther away from Earth, it appears smaller and does not block the entire face of the Sun. As a result, the Moon appears like a dark disk on top of a larger, bright disk.

Since the Moon's orbit around Earth is not a perfect circle when it is at its farthest point from the Earth, the Moon will appear slightly smaller than the Sun. Eclipses that happen during this phase of the Moon's orbit are known as annular eclipses. The annular eclipse blocked out 90 percent of the sun at its peak so part of the Sun was still visible in a "ring of fire" encircling the Moon. Scientists don't know of any other place in the Galaxy that has a "ring of fire" like an annular eclipse viewed from Earth.

In comparison, a total solar eclipse happens when the Moon completely blocks the Sun. This occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth while it is close enough to Earth that it appears to be the same visual size as the Sun.

In addition to the viewing of the Enchanted Eclipse, the UNM Department of Physics & Astronomy hosted a variety of exhibits on Johnson Field including a nationwide eclipse ballooning project conducted by Penn State University that was designed to provide a º360-panoramic view of the eclipse. The helium balloon, about the size of a small car, was equipped with several different payloads strung out underneath the balloon. Unfortunately, a transmission issue didn’t allow for the panoramic view.

In addition, an informational table featuring the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) with tips on taking eclipse photographs, and several booths with astronomers conducting short demonstrations involving the science of eclipses, playing with light and an instrument that gave attendees the opportunity to feel and hear the eclipse. An informational booth to learn and donate to the planning phase for a new campus observatory was also featured. Finally, rows and rows of telescopes and hand-made viewing contraptions also lined various areas on Johnson Field.  

Several half-hour lectures were also part of the eclipse experience in the Physics & Astronomy and Interdisciplinary Science building (PAÍS). They included topics such as Optical and Radio Solar Eclipses, History of Eclipses and Eclipses on Other Worlds.

For more information on eclipses and to view The Ring of Fire 2023 Annular Solar Eclipse, visit NASA’s 2023 Solar Eclipse.