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Solar eclipse guide 2020: When, where & how to see them

There will be two solar eclipses in 2020. First, an annular eclipse, commonly referred to as a "ring of fire," will pass over Africa and Asia on June 21. Then on Dec. 14, a total solar eclipse will be visible from South America. 

A solar eclipse occurs when the disk of the moon appears to cross in front of the disk of the sun. A total solar eclipse — like the one that crossed the U.S. on Aug. 21, 2017 — occurs when the disk of the moon blocks 100% of the solar disk. A partial eclipse occurs when the moon covers only part of the sun. If the moon passes directly in front of the sun when it is near apogee, the point in its elliptical orbit where it is farthest from Earth, skywatchers will see an annular eclipse, also known as a "ring of fire."

The last solar eclipse was an annular eclipse on Dec. 26, 2019, which was visible from Asia and Australia. The last total solar eclipse was the "Great South American Eclipse" on July 2, 2019, which was visible almost exclusively over South America. You can see a complete list of the upcoming solar eclipses on NASA's eclipse website, which provides information about solar eclipses, including detailed maps of each eclipse path. 

Related: A list of solar and lunar eclipses in 2020 and beyond

Annular solar eclipse on June 21

The first solar eclipse of 2020 arrives on June 21. Skywatchers across Africa, southeast Europe, Asia and the Pacific will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, with the moon blocking a portion of the sun. 

But the best views will come to those along the centerline, which stretches from central Africa to northern India, China and Taiwan. Along the centerline, skywatchers will see an annular, or "ring of fire" eclipse. 

A map of the solar eclipse on June 21, 2020.  (Image credit: Fred Espenak/NASA)

The first place that will see the annular eclipse will be near the town of Impfondo in the northeastern Republic of the Congo, where the annular eclipse begins at 5:47 a.m. local time (12:47 a.m. EDT; 0447 GMT), just a few minutes after sunrise.

The path of annularity goes northeast from there, through the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Eritrea before crossing the Red Sea into the Arabian Peninsula. It will then travel through Pakistan, northern India and southern China before reaching Taiwan, the last place where people can see the annular eclipse — unless there are some lucky seamen located along its path out in the Pacific Ocean. 

A time table for the annular solar eclipse on June 21, 2020. All times are given in local time zones.  (Image credit: Future)

Total solar eclipse on Dec. 14

In this timelapse image of the Great South American Eclipse on July 2, the sun sets behind the Andes mountains as the moon crosses directly in front of it, creating a stunning "diamond ring" effect in the evening sky. (Image credit: Chirag Upreti)

The second and final solar eclipse of 2020 will be a total solar eclipse over South America on Dec. 14. This total eclipse will be visible from Chile and Argentina in the afternoon, and skywatchers can witness up to 2 minutes and 10 seconds of daytime darkness as the moon blocks the sun. 

A partial eclipse will be visible from much of South America and a few countries in the southwest corner of Africa, including Namibia, Angola, Botswana and South Africa. 

The path of totality for this eclipse will be very similar to that of the total solar eclipse of July 2, 2019, and it will take only 97 minutes for the path of the eclipse to cross the South American continent. The path of totality, where skywatchers can see the moon completely block the sun from view, is a 56-mile-wide (90 kilometers) strip of land that begins in the Pacific Ocean, makes landfall on the west coast of Chile, crosses Argentina and ends in the South Atlantic Ocean. 

A map for the total solar eclipse on Dec. 14, 2020.  (Image credit: Fred Espenak/NASA)

The partial phase of the eclipse will begin at 8:33 a.m. EST (1333 GMT), but it will only be visible to whoever happens to be out in the Pacific Ocean, about 2,400 miles (3,900 km) southeast of the Hawaiian Islands. It will reach the coast of Chile at 11 a.m. EST (1600 GMT), just 13 minutes before the moment of maximum eclipse. The first place to see the eclipse will be near the southern tip of Budi Lake in the La Araucanía Region of southern Chile.

The last place to see the eclipse will be in the in Río Negro Province of Argentina, near the village of La Lobería. The total eclipse begins there at 1:22 p.m. local time and lasts 2 minutes 7 seconds. 

How to view the sun safely

WARNING: Looking directly at the sun, even during an annular eclipse, can lead to blindness and other forms of permanent eye damage if you aren't wearing proper eye protection. 

To safely observe the sun or watch an eclipse, you need special protective eyewear or eclipse glasses. Basic sunglasses, even those with UV protection, will not sufficiently protect your eyes. If you're planning to document the eclipse with any photo equipment, there are special solar filters you can add to make sure the remaining ring of sunlight doesn't take a toll on your vision. 

The safest way to observe an eclipse is indirectly, using a pinhole camera that you can make easily at home. 

If you must document one of these events, a simple, wide-angle snap should capture the moment, even if you're using your smartphone camera. 

Editor's Note: If you snap an amazing solar eclipse photo and would like to share it with Space.com's readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to spacephotos@space.com.

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  • rod
    "A solar eclipse occurs when the disk of the moon appears to cross in front of the disk of the sun. A total solar eclipse — like the one that crossed the U.S. on Aug. 21, 2017..."

    This was a great solar eclipse to observe. I really enjoyed using my telescope with white-light solar filer, 90-mm refractor to view the event. Solar eclipses measured in the 1880s showed the Moon is slowly receding from Earth and the Earth is slowing down too, thus the length of day is increasing. Charles Darwin's son, George Darwin noted this and developed the fission theory for the origin of the Moon.
    Reply