Everything you need to know to catch Sunday's rare hybrid solar eclipse

The last solar eclipse of the year is happening on Sunday, and it's a weird one. Here's where, when, and how to catch Sunday's rare hybrid solar eclipse.

Top photo by Abel Pardo López

What is a Hybrid Solar Eclipse?

A hybrid solar eclipse is really two kinds of solar eclipse in one. Over the course of the day, it appears from some places on Earth to be an annular (aka "ring of fire") eclipse, and a total eclipse from others.


In most cases, a hybrid's central path (the long, narrow band that cuts through the middle of the total eclipse-viewing area, depicted in the figure above) starts out annular, transitions to total for the middle portion of the track, and reverts back to annular towards the end of the path (anyone observing from outside this central band will witness a partial eclipse). Hybrid solar eclipses are rare, but according to NASA, Sunday's "eclipse is even rarer, still, in that the central path begins annular and ends total."


When and Where

Skygazers in the easternmost regions of North America, the northern reaches of South America, parts of Europe and the Middle East, and pretty much all of Africa will be able to catch a glimpse of the eclipse this Sunday some time between local sunrise and sunset, depending on their location.


Those on America's Eastern Seaboard will have front row seats to a partial solar eclipse that will last about the first thirty minutes following local sunrise. In other words: get somewhere with a good view by sunup and you'll be good to go. Fortunately, standard time kicks in the same day, which should make getting up bright and early a little easier than usual.


The chart on the left, created by Eclipse Maps' Michael Zeiler, shows you what kind of Sun-blockage you can expect on Sunday morning, assuming you've left yourself plenty of time to get somewhere with a good, clear view of the eastern horizon. If you're one for specifics, try a solar eclipse calculator to determine the ideal viewing times for your location. I'm a fan of timeanddate.com's Eclipse Calculator; it includes an animation of what you can expect the eclipse to look like when observed from your location. According to EarthSky, the western limit of the eclipse's visibility runs through southern Ontario, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle. Any further west than that, and the eclipse will be over before the sun peaks over your Eastern horizon. You'll want to see instructions below on how to watch online.

Europe, Africa and the Middle East will be able to see the solar eclipse on Sunday afternoon. Those watching from equatorial Africa (Gabon, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia and Somalia) will be afforded short-lived views of the total eclipse, also in the afternoon.


Watching Online

Your best bet is probably the SLOOH Space Camera, which will be streaming feeds from telescopes around the world. SLOOH even has it set up so you can take pictures of the eclipse as it unfolds, including its transition to totality as seen from an observatory in Kenya.


Watching Safely

One of the benefits to watching the eclipse online, rather than in-person, is not having to worry about taking precautions when actually viewing the eclipse. Looking directly at the Sun — even during an eclipse, and, yes, even with sunglasses — is an awful, awful idea, and can permanently damage your vision.


To safely view the eclipse, you'll want to go buy a solar filter. These come in a variety of forms, from wearable solar shades, to attachments that you can affix to telescopes and binoculars. They'll cut the brightness by enough that you'll be able to catch glimpses of the Sun without frying your retinas.


If it's last-minute or buying a solar filter isn't an option, Sky and Telescope has detailed instructions for viewing the eclipse with a variety of pinhole projection techniques. (The photograph featured here shows how skygazers in Madrid used projection techniques to view an annular eclipse back in 2005.) Here's the simplest one:

Poke a small hole in an index card with a pencil point, face it toward the Sun, and hold a second card three or four feet behind it in its shadow. The hole will project a small image of the Sun's disk onto the lower card. This image will go through all the phases of the eclipse, just as the real Sun does. Experiment with different size holes. A large hole makes the image bright but fuzzy; a small hole makes it dim but sharp. the ever-popular pinhole projector technique.


More advanced projection methods involve the use of a cardboard box, or the room of a house with a sun-facing window. You can click through for more details.

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