Solar Eclipses-A look into the skies

Solar Eclipses: Mary and Family Viewing the Eclipse Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer
Mary and Family Viewing the Eclipse
Courtesy & © Mary Heers, Photographer

Photo of Her 2013 T-shirt
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer, T-Shirt image Copyright 2012 Betchart Expeditions Inc. Photo of Her 2013 T-shirt
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
T-Shirt image Copyright 2012 Betchart Expeditions Inc.

Photo of Her 2013 T-shirt
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer, T-Shirt image Copyright 2012 Betchart Expeditions Inc. Photo of Her 2013 T-shirt
Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers, Photographer
T-Shirt image Copyright 2012 Betchart Expeditions Inc.

When I looked up at the cloudy sky on October 14, I was dismayed. I was so looking forward to watching the partial solar eclipse, predicted to be at its height at 80% in Cache Valley at 10:15. Now the sun was hidden behind heavy clouds. Refusing to give up all hope, I slipped my eclipse glasses into my pocket and headed up a hiking trail on the Wellsville mountains. At 10:10 I stopped on an open ledge, put the glasses on, and looked up into the sky.

I saw nothing but absolute, total black.

I waited a few minutes. I put the glasses back on.

This time I saw the darkness thinning. And behold! A golden croissant appeared in the black sky.

In very slow motion, the moon continued to slide across this glowing crescent, reducing it to a thin golden semi-circle.

It was spellbinding for me because this partial eclipse was so different from the 3 total eclipses I’d already seen. This time my attention was on the big black moon rock sailing slowly across a spot of light. In the past, watching a total eclipse was all about the sun disappearing.

My first eclipse was in 1961. My high school physics teacher had taken us on an all-night bus ride. In the morning, the bus pulled over in an olive grove. I will never forget how the color drained out of the countryside. The birds stopped singing. We felt the chill as the temperature dropped.

My second total eclipse was on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. We were on course to intercept the path of totality when it started raining. The shop’s captain gunned the engines and somehow found a bit of open sky. We counted down: 3,2,1, Zero! The sun disappeared and the stars came out. We took off our glasses. We held our breath. And then a tiny spot of hot sun poked out on the the sun’s aurora, and what looked like a giant engagement ring spread across the sky.

My third eclipse was near the Grand Tetons in 2017. This time I was fascinated by the small crescents of sunlight shadows dancing across my shoes.

In ancient times, the temporary extinguishing of the sun caused quite a bit of fear. The Chinese thought a giant dragon was taking bites out of the sun. They beat drums to drive the dragon away. In other countries, warriors shot flaming arrows into the sky to reignite the lost fireball.

We still have much to learn about the moon, the sun, the stars, and beyond. But what I learned this year was that the sun is 400 times the size of the moon. The moon is 390 times closer to the earth. This allows the sun and moon to appear to us to be the about same size. So, when the moon slides between us and the sun, sometimes it covers it completely. But when the moon is at its farthest from the earth, it leaves the fiery edges of the sun exposed – the Ring of Fire.

It’s a math problem with moving parts, but mathematicians can predict exactly when the next total eclipse will be visible in North America.

Set your calendar for April 8, 2024.

This is Mary Heers and I’m Wild About Utah.


Photos: Courtesy & Copyright Mary Heers. T-shirt image © 2012 Betchart Expeditions Inc.
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
Text: Mary Heers,
Additional Reading: Lyle Bingham,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Mary Heers’ Postings

“Some Tribes are allowed to view the eclipse while others, like the Navajo and Ute Indian Tribes, do not look at it. This can include reflections (water, mirrors, windows, etc.) or photos.

Please avoid posting videos or photos of the eclipse on social media – some Tribes are forbidden to look at the eclipse, including images and videos…”
2023 Annular Eclipse, San Juan County Economic Visitor Services,

Strand, Holly, Ring of Fire, Wild About Utah, May 17, 2012,

Eclipses, NASA,

2023 Solar Eclipse, NASA,

[Future Eclipses] April 8, 2024, Solar Eclipse, NASA,

2023 Annual Eclipse, Bryce Canyon National Park, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior,

Annular Solar Eclipse, October 14, 2023, Capital Reef National Park, National Park Service, US Department of the Interior,

Atlantic Crossing Total Eclipse 2013, Betchart Expeditions Inc.,
Memorable Images:

Ring of Fire

The Hinode satellite
captured this image of
an annular solar eclipse

Hinode is a Japanese mission
in partnership with NASA,
Photo Courtesy NASA

Annular eclipse path for May 20, 2012
Courtesy Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC

Hi, I’m Holly Strand.

On Sunday afternoon and early evening, the US mainland will experience its first solar eclipse of the 21st century. And Utahns will have first row seats.

During a total eclipse, the Earth, Moon and Sun are in perfect alignment with the Moon in the middle. For the Earthlings experiencing it, the sun’s surface is totally blocked by the moon and the sky darkens. However, sometimes the Earth-Moon-Sun alignment occurs when the moon is near its greatest distance from earth. When this happens, the moon has a smaller apparent size that is not large enough to cover the entire disk of the sun. Instead, a fiery ring of sunlight remains visible around the lunar edge. This is called an annular eclipse from the Latin word “annulus” meaning ring. And this is what some Utahns will see on Sunday.

To experience a total or annular eclipse you must be located within the eclipse path which is defined by the eclipsing moon’s shadow. The path of this Sunday’s eclipse is a 150-180 mile wide swath that begins near Hainan Island in southern China at sunrise on May 21. The center line of the eclipse path curves northeast, passing between Yokohama and Tokyo, before continuing across the Pacific. SW of the Aleutians the path traverses the International Dateline where suddenly it’s the day before- May 20. Then the path curves south and eastward striking the United States near the border of California and Oregon. Arching down through Nevada and Utah the path slices through the southwest before disappearing with the sunset in Texas.

The eclipse path encompasses the entire SW corner of Utah. Visitors to Zion, Bryce Canyon, Cedar Breaks and Lake Powell will experience full annularity. As will the inhabitants of St George, Milford, Kanab, Cedar City, Escalante and many other southern Utah towns. Don’t despair if you are outside the full eclipse path. Anywhere in Utah, you will still experience a very impressive partial eclipse.

Even though an eclipse is an amazing sight, it is not for human eyes! Most eclipse-burned retinas belong to children or young adults so be vigilant with young ones around. The common way to experience an eclipse is with a pinhole viewer with two pieces of stiff white cards. Punch a hole in one of the cards and– with your back to the Sun–hold the card up so that light falls through the hole, projecting the eclipsed sun’s image on to the other card. Do not look at the Sun through the pinhole!

If you have some shade trees, look at the images of eclipsed sun coming through the holes formed by the leaves. You may see little rings of light in the shadows. If the leaves have little bug holes, they will also act as pinhole projectors.

If for some reason you miss this Sunday’s show, you don’t have to wait long for another…in astronomical time anyway. For on August 21st 2017, North America will experience a total solar eclipse. The path will be just to the north of Utah in central Idaho and Wyoming. Total eclipses can draw a huge number of visitors from around the country and abroad. If you think Jackson hotels are expensive now just wait ‘til 2017!

For pictures, maps of the eclipse path and advice on viewing go to

Special thanks to Michelle Larson, astrophysicist at Utah State University, for her help with this Wild About Utah episode.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Holly Strand.

Images: Courtesy NASA
Text: Holly Strand

Sources & Additional Reading

Fred Espenak’s Eclipse Web Site:

Interactive path of annularity or eclipse path of the May 20th eclipse.

Map of May 20 eclipse path in Utah
See also the home page:

Enter a geographic location to find out about past and future eclipses:

How to view: