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Skywatchers Enjoy 'Ring Of Fire' Eclipse


Some people had a chance to see a ring of fire eclipse last night. Millions of people in Asia and the Western U.S. enjoyed this rare light show in which the moon blocks all of the sun's light except for a flaming outer ring. Good weather helped make the region near the border of Oregon and California one of the best places to get a glimpse. And it's from there that Oregon Public Broadcasting's Amelia Templeton brings us this report.

AMELIA TEMPLETON, BYLINE: Mark Dalton is a middle school teacher in Yreka, California. A few months ago, he taught his students about solar eclipses. Now, he's standing at a fire lookout west of town in the Klamath Mountains, watching an eclipse begin.

MARK DALTON: It's like there's just a slight little bite out of the lower right quadrant of the disk.

TEMPLETON: Does it make you think of anything?

DALTON: Well, it looks like Pac man, sort of, I guess.

TEMPLETON: Dalton pulls a welder's helmet over his head, to protect his eyes. This kind of helmet has a darkly shaded glass window that filters out harmful UV light and lets him look directly at the sun.

DALTON: There she is. Oh. A bigger bite now.

TEMPLETON: For most people in the West, this is what the eclipse looks like - the moon taking a bite out of the sun. But Dalton is waiting to see something more. Northern California is along the centerline of this eclipse. Here, the moon should fully block the sun, leaving only a ring of light visible.

DALTON: I hope to see the ring of fire. I hope to see the solar flares, when we get to that point.

TEMPLETON: In a total eclipse, the moon covers the sun completely. But in a ring of fire eclipse, the moon looks a little smaller than the sun. Eric Anderson is an astronomer and president of the Southern Oregon Skywatchers Club. He says the moon looks small during this eclipse because it's far away from the earth.

ERIC ANDERSON: The moon's orbit is pretty close to a circle, but not quite. It's actually an ellipse. This means that there are times when the moon is close to the earth, and sometimes it's far away.

TEMPLETON: Anderson says in a total eclipse, the moon is about the size of a quarter, while in a ring of fire eclipse, it's more like the size of a nickel. Anderson says people from Alaska to Massachusetts have traveled here to see the ring of fire.

ANDERSON: Some people will chase eclipses anywhere in the world, even if it's in the middle of the ocean, they'll go on a cruise ship to watch it. There is that level of devotion out there.

TEMPLETON: Back on the hilltop near Yreka, Mark Dalton is watching the eclipse reach its peak.

DALTON: All right, the points are touching. We got a ring.

TEMPLETON: It gets chilly, and the sky darkens a little. And then, after just a few minutes, the ring of fire passes, as far as California watchers are concerned. But the show moves on. New Mexico and Texas are waiting to watch it before the sun goes down.

DALTON: It was just a fleeting thing, but it was certainly indelible in my mind. I don't think I'll ever forget the look of it.

TEMPLETON: For this eclipse, merchants sold lots of protective solar glasses. And people should hold on to them. Astronomers say an even more rare event is happening June 5th. The planet Venus will pass in front of the sun. And that won't happen again for more than 100 years.

For NPR News, I'm Amelia Templeton in Yreka, California.


JOHNNY CASH: (Singing) I fell in to a burning ring of fire. I went down, down, down and the flames went higher. And it burns, burns, burn, the ring of fire, the ring of fire.

INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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