A hybrid solar eclipse — the first of its kind in nearly 10 years — is on the way.
During this rare celestial event, the moon will pass between Earth and the sun in such a way that people in its narrow central eclipse path, including parts of Australia, East Timor and Indonesia, will experience either an annular or a total eclipse, depending on where they are in relation to the moon.
The hybrid eclipse will begin at 10:37 p.m. ET Wednesday and last until about 1:56 a.m. ET, according to EarthSky, with the greatest totality, when the moon fully covers the sun, occurring for just over one minute in Timor at 12:16 a.m. ET.
What makes a hybrid eclipse unique
Otherwise known as an annular-total eclipse, a hybrid eclipse is a function of Earth’s curvature and the event’s path. Due to their proximity to the moon at the time, in some areas the moon will appear to be the same size as the sun — the conditions for a total eclipse — while people in other locations will perceive the moon to be smaller than the sun, in an annular eclipse.
A total eclipse, created from the moon’s central and darkest shadow, known as its umbra, causes a brief darkening of our sky, as the moon blocks nearly all of the sun — except for its outer fiery atmosphere — from view. An annular eclipse is caused by the moon’s antumbra shadow, which starts where the umbra ends, and results in a crisper circle of light, since the moon only covers a smaller disk-like area of the sun. Both types of events appear as partial eclipses at the beginning and end, due to the moon’s orbit, as well as to those not in the path of full eclipse.
A hybrid eclipse occurs when the moon is at just the right distance where both the umbral and antumbral shadow can reach Earth. During full eclipse, at the very middle of the eclipse path, the antumbral shadow will create an annular eclipse for some and the umbral shadow will create a total eclipse for others. Since the distance has to be in this sweet spot, and the sun and moon have a continuously changing distance, these perfect conditions are rare to come by.
“This eclipse is a little bit tough, because not much of it is going to pass over land…so most people that get a chance to see the eclipse are going to see a partial eclipse,” said Dr. Michael Kirk, the principal investigator of NASA’s Heliophysics Education Activation Team. “What that means is that the moon is only going to block out part of the sun, so it will look like a bite is taken out of the sun.”
A wider portion of the world— those in southeast Asia, East Indies, Australia, Philippines and New Zealand— will experience a partial eclipse this week, according to EarthSky.
“I don’t know about you, but I don’t think “oh, I live in a solar system” when I walk outside every day — but when you see an eclipse, you are all of a sudden given that perspective,” Kirk said. “Even though we think of them as relatively static in the sky… it’s actually this dance of planets and the moon and the sun, and the subtle changes are apparent during an eclipse.”
The next hybrid eclipse is expected in 2031. But after that, the alignment and conditions needed for such an event will likely not occur again until over 100 years later, in 2164, according to NASA.
Safely viewing an eclipse
During a total eclipse, there is a brief moment, totality, where the moon completely covers the sun enough that it is safe to look without the proper eye protection. For all other eclipse instances, proper eclipse glasses are required to safely view.
But if you don’t have an opportunity to get a solar filter, there are still ways to look at it, Kirk said. He recommends a pinhole projector, which can be made by poking a small hole in a piece of paper or cardboard and holding it up to the sky. With this crafty contraption, you will see an image of the sun projected onto the ground, without the need to look up, Kirk said.
“Seeing a total solar eclipse is what you’re going to tell your grandkids about — it’s that incredible of an event,” Kirk said. “Eclipses are happening… The tough part is catching one where you live. If you have one in your neighborhood, definitely make an effort to go see it because it’s usually a long time before another one.”
More eclipses to come
If you miss this week’s eclipse, there will be other chances in 2023 to see one in your area.
For those in Africa, Asia and Australia, a penumbral lunar eclipse will occur on May 5, in which the moon will enter Earth’s shadow, causing the lunar surface to appear dim.
If you live in North, Central or South America, an annular solar eclipse will take place on October 14.
On October 28, a partial lunar eclipse will be viewable by people in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, parts of North America and much of South America. Only part of the moon will pass into shadow, since Earth and the moon won’t be completely aligned.
The Lyrids will rain down and peak this weekend, ending a month-long meteor shower drought, and May’s Aquariids will soon follow.
Here are the remaining meteor showers of 2023 and their peak dates:
• Lyrids: April 22-23
• Eta Aquariids: May 5-6
• Southern Delta Aquariids: July 30-31
• Alpha Capricornids: July 30-31
• Perseids: August 12-13
• Orionids: October 20-21
• Southern Taurids: November 4-5
• Northern Taurids: November 11-12
• Leonids: November 17-18
• Geminids: December 13-14
• Ursids: December 21-22
More full moons
For moon enthusiasts, there are nine more full moons this year to keep an eye out for. Here’s the list of full moons remaining in 2023, according to the Farmers’ Almanac:
• May 5: Flower moon
• June 3: Strawberry moon
• July 3: Buck moon
• August 1: Sturgeon moon
• August 30: Blue moon
• September 29: Harvest moon
• October 28: Hunter’s moon
• November 27: Beaver moon
• December 26: Cold moon