A solar eclipse turns the disk of the sun into a wide orange grin over Gumaca in the Philippines on Monday morning, local time. Although the sun is only minimally covered in this picture, the so-called annular eclipse went on to create a "ring of fire" for sky-watchers in parts of Asia and the U.S. West.
An annular eclipse happens when the moon lines up between Earth and the sun, and when the dark moon's apparent diameter is smaller than the visible disk of the sun, leaving a ring—or annulus—of fiery light around the edges.
Because of the vagaries of time zones, this weekend's "time traveling" solar eclipse started in China on Monday around sunrise, raced across the Pacific Ocean, and made "landfall" again in the United States on Sunday evening.
—With reporting by Andrew Fazekas
Chain of Events
A combination of pictures shows the stages of Monday's annular solar eclipse, as seen from Tokyo. During the eclipse, the moon's shadow crossed over Japan around 7:35 a.m. Monday, local time.
For an annular eclipse, "the path of annularity, where the full eclipse will be visible, is hundreds of miles wide and thousands of miles long," said eclipse expert Jay Pasachoff of Williams College in Massachusetts.
In this path "viewers looking through special solar filters can see a ring of sunlight around the black silhouette of the moon," said Pasachoff, who is also a National Geographic Society grantee. (National Geographic News is a division of the Society.)
Using a telescope with a special filter, a man watches the solar eclipse from Baja California in Mexico on Sunday.
Although Mexico wasn't in the path of the full "ring of fire" eclipse, viewers there could still see a striking partial eclipse. (See partial eclipse pictures.)
"Unlike a total eclipse, in which the sun is entirely covered and the sky therefore gets dark, it never gets dark during an annular eclipse like this one," Pasachoff said.
"So the only loss in view from being off to the side of the zone of totality is that you won't see a complete ring, and things won't appear symmetric."
The dark moon leaves only a thin circle of silver light from the sun during the annular eclipse, as seen from Utsunomiya, Japan, on Monday.
Japan hasn't seen an annular eclipse since 1839, according to the Associated Press. Japanese TV crews filmed from the top of Mount Fuji, while several groups arranged eclipse tours at schools and parks, on pleasure boats, and even on private airplanes.
"It was a very mysterious sight," Kaori Sasaki told the AP from downtown Tokyo. "I've never seen anything like it."
The sun is largely obscured by the moon over Mount Shasta, California, in a multiple-exposure picture taken on Sunday. Viewers in North America saw the solar eclipse start at the California-Oregon border around 6:30 p.m. PT on May 20.
The eclipse then crossed southern Nevada, southern Utah, the Grand Canyon in northern Arizona, the lower-left corner of Colorado, and most of New Mexico before ending near Lubbock, Texas, around sunset at 8:36 p.m. CT. (See pictures of a June 2010 total solar eclipse.)
Burning Ring of Fire
An eclipsed sun sinks toward the horizon near oil rigs north of Odessa, Texas, on Sunday evening.
Some picturesque wilderness areas—including several U.S. national parks—were in the 190-mile-wide (300-kilometer-wide) path of the full annular eclipse.
For most viewers in the path of annularity, the eclipse lasted for just over four and a half minutes.
Sun in Shadow
Hands holding a pair of binoculars cast an unusual shadow—complete with twin views of the solar eclipse—as seen in Sacramento, California, on Sunday.
Looking directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, can damage your eyes. Probably the safest and easiest way to take in a solar eclipse is to use the pinhole projection method, Williams College's Pasachoff said.
"Punch a one-eighth to one-quarter-inch hole in a piece of cardboard and use it to create a projection of the partial or annular phases on a wall a few feet away," he said.
The sun is partially covered by the moon in a picture of the solar eclipse taken from Monument Valley Navajo Tribal Park in Utah on Sunday. Dark blots on the solar disk are sunspots—magnetically active regions on the sun that are relatively cool and so appear darker.
People on a Tokyo rooftop use special glasses to watch the solar eclipse on Monday morning.
To view a solar eclipse safely, astronomers recommend using either a professionally manufactured solar filter in front of a telescope or camera, or using such eclipse-viewing glasses, which sufficiently reduce the sun's brightness and filter out damaging ultraviolet and infrared radiation.