January 15, 2010—The first solar eclipse of the decade created this "ring of fire" over Jiangsu Province, China, on Friday. Such an event is known as an annular eclipse, because a bright annulus—or ring—of sunlight remains visible even when the moon is directly between Earth and the sun.
The moon's orbit is not a perfect circle, which means its exact distance from Earth changes. During an annular eclipse, the moon is farther from Earth, so its apparent size is smaller than the visible disk of the sun. (Get more annular eclipse facts at NatGeo's Breaking Orbit blog.)
Today's annular eclipse first appeared over central Africa, swept over the Indian Ocean, and ended in China. The eclipse lasted the longest near the Maldive Islands, noted eclipse expert and National Geographic grantee Jay Pasachoff, Field Memorial Professor at Williams College in Massachusetts.
"The maximum eclipse time [stretched] to an incredible 11 minutes and 7 seconds, making this eclipse duration the longest annular solar eclipse of the millennium," he said.
See pictures of the 2009 annular eclipse over Indonesia >>
—Reporting by Andrew Fazekas