PORTLAND, Maine — Headlines are circulating on Facebook with misleading information about next week’s solar eclipse.
“Maine, New Hampshire will see rare ‘ring of fire’ solar eclipse next week,” they blare.
It’s not true.
There will be a partial solar eclipse at dawn on Thursday, but the so-called ring of fire will not be visible in Maine.
Still, that’s no reason to miss the spectacular heavenly event, according to local astronomers.
“It’s a spectacle,” said Rob Burgess, president of the Southern Maine Astronomers club, “and a real-time demonstration of solar mechanics.”
And that’s worth getting up early to see, Burgess said.
A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the Earth and the sun. If the moon is close enough to our planet, it blots out our local star completely. If the moon is further away, it appears too small to cover the whole sun and a ring of light shines out around it.
That is officially called an annular eclipse, but in layman’s terms, it’s sometimes referred to as a “ring of fire.” To see it, a viewer has to be at the exact spot on Earth to get the proper angle.
Maine is not at the optimal angle to see the ring during this annular eclipse.
“We’re too far south to see the ‘ring of fire,'” Burgess said. “But we will see the sun about 75 percent eclipsed by the moon.”
The “ring of fire” will only be visible over Siberia, northern Canada and Greenland.
“Here, it will appear as a big C-shape, with the moon’s outline on the sun’s top quadrant,” Burgess said.
In Maine, the eclipse will begin before the sun actually rises, around 5 a.m., and continue until about 6:30 a.m. The eclipse’s height will occur at 5:30 a.m. Exact times will vary, depending on a viewer’s exact longitude.
If you head out to see it, know that it is dangerous to look directly at the sun. Instead, look through protective eyewear or observe a projection.
“I’d check with my local library to see if they have any mylar safety glasses left over from the 2017 eclipse,” Burgess said. “Or you can do the old ‘pinhole in a shoebox’ thing.”
That method involves punching a tiny aperture in a box. As the sun streams through the hole, a miniature projection of the sun, and the moon’s silhouette, will appear on the opposite, darkened side of the box. You can also use an upside down colander for this purpose. Its hundreds of holes will make a sea of miniature suns.
Very dark, industrial welding glasses, with a number 14 shade rating, are also suitable for viewing the eclipse. But beware, most welding glasses found in hardware stores are not nearly dark enough. Watching the eclipse through them can permanently damage eyesight.
Burgess and his fellow club members plan to be on Portland’s Eastern Prom at sunrise with a telescope fitted with a solar shade.
“A few dog walkers and early joggers might stop by,” he said.
Like all terrestrial astronomy events, the entire affair is weather dependent. Clouds can easily ruin the fun.
“It’s a crap shoot, as always,” Burgess said.