When Johnny Cash sang about a ring of fire, the musical legend was commenting on love, but skywatchers know the fiery image takes on a more astronomical definition this weekend.
On Sunday (May 20), the moon will come between the Earth and the sun during an annular solar eclipse.
Because the moon will be at its furthest point away from the planet this weekend and will appear relatively small in the sky – as opposed to the “supermoon” observed two weeks ago when the moon was at its closest point to Earth – it will obscure three-quarters of the sun and earthlings will observe a band of sunlight not covered by the moon.
“We’ll see this little ring of fire around the moon,” said University of Victoria astronomy professor Russ Robb. “It’ll be pretty neat – almost as good as a total eclipse.”
The partial eclipse will first be visible in China before the moon’s shadow transits westward across the Pacific, ending above Reno, Nev.
And while there’s no guarantee the eclipse will even be noticeable to those on the street, local astronomers will be glued to their telescopes.
“It always seems like [eclipses] are in Antarctica or Australia or the Arctic, and never where we are,” Robb said.
For those who would like to be behind a telescope on Sunday, Robb warns to take precautions and equip lenses with adequate solar filters to ensure safe viewing of the sun’s surface.
Observers can also project an image of the sun onto a steel disc.
The Nanaimo Astronomy Society is inviting the public to Maffeo Sutton Park from 5-7 p.m. to safely peer into the sky and witness the partial solar eclipse.
There will be few solar telescopes and solar eclipse glasses available for the public to use.
The astronomy society cautions people that viewing the eclipse with standard binoculars or telescopes can severely damage a person’s eyes.
Australia is in line to experience the next total eclipse of the sun on Nov. 13 of this year. The Island will wait until Aug. 17, 2017 to fall under the shadow of the moon during a total solar eclipse.
But astronomers and hobbyists in the area don’t have to wait another five years for the next celestial event.
On June 5 Venus will travel across the sun, appearing as a small dot moving left to right in the foreground. The transit of Venus won’t happen again until 2117.
“Everybody’s going to be talking about it,” Robb said.
Nanaimo’s public viewing session is subject to weather conditions as cloud cover will limit viewing.
For more information, please go to http://nanaimoastronomy.com.