This unusual phenomenon will put on a good show for West Coasters!
this Sunday at 5:24PM: a "ring of fire" solar eclipse. Technically called an annular solar eclipse, the "ring of fire" effect happens because of the moon's position between the sun and the Earth.
In a typical solar eclipse, the moon completely obscures the sun, from our perspective. Although the moon is considerably smaller than the sun, it is also a lot closer to us. It's the same reason why you can hold up your thumb, and (seemingly) completely obscure a distant skyscraper.
However, this Sunday the moon will be near apogee, which is the point in its orbit when it is farthest away from the Earth. (In contrast with the recent "Supermoon," when the full moon was in perigee - or at its closest point to the Earth.) It is not much of a difference in celestial terms, but from the perspective of a person on Earth, the added distance will be enough that the moon will not quite cover the sun as it slides past. This leaves a rim of the sun poking out all around - thus, the "ring of fire."
Needless to say, you should not look directly at it, because it is the sun, and you are not THAT stupid, right?
A total or near-total solar eclipse is a fascinating event to witness in person, and something that I hope everyone gets to experience at least once in their lifetimes. It's difficult to describe how strange the lighting looks, and how bizarre it feels at an instinctual level. Animals seem to find it unnerving as well, and it's easy to understand why civilizations have held the eclipse in reverence.
One of the most famous occurrences of an eclipse is thought to have coincided with the crucifixion of Christ. According to the synoptic gospels, on the day Christ was crucified, "darkness covered the land for hours."
This is called the "crucifixion eclipse," and literalists believe it describes an actual solar eclipse. However, the mystical tradition holds that it was a work of Christian miracle, blocking out the sun in mourning for the passage of Jesus. And still others feel it was a literary device, similar to the way it always seems to be raining during a fictional funeral. It could also be simply meant metaphorically.