Eclipse day has finally arrived. Rising early, we make our way to TravelQuest’s expertly selected viewing site, ready to take in the full spectacle (see box). Afterward, you can reflect on the experience over lunch and traditional coffee with our local friends – and then enjoy the rest of the day at your leisure.
Annular Eclipses 101
By eclipse meteorologist Jay Anderson
What is an Annular Eclipse?
Solar eclipses come in three flavors. The first is a partial eclipse in which the Moon covers only a segment of the Sun; it’s visible over a large area of the Earth and is not particularly remarkable. The other two flavors are both “central eclipses” in which the Moon passes directly across the Sun. To see these very special eclipses at their best, you need to place yourself within their narrow shadow tracks across the Earth’s surface. Each type of central eclipse has its own set of attractions. In one case, the Moon is relatively close to the Earth; it covers the Sun completely, giving us the spectacle of a total eclipse in which all of the normally hidden features of the Sun are revealed to viewers for a few precious minutes. In the other type, the Moon is at a more distant part of its orbit and cannot completely cover the solar disk. Instead it forms a ring of light in the sky – an annulus – that is captivating for the watchers below. Although annular eclipses are slightly more common than total eclipses, they are still elusive – unless you’re willing to travel to experience them. The 2020 annular eclipse is especially intriguing. The Moon will be nearly the same size as the Sun in the sky, and so the annulus will be very narrow – just shy of a total eclipse. Phenomena that are only fleetingly visible during a total eclipse will linger and wrap themselves around the edge of the dark Moon. Beads of sunlight, shining through valleys on the limb of the Moon, will form an extended necklace, as brilliant as diamonds against the darkening sky. The impossibly red hues of the chromosphere, the Sun’s shallowest atmospheric layer, will form a ruby ribbon that unites the sunlight beads along the lunar edge. The Sun’s extended atmosphere, the corona, will briefly come into view when the Moon begins to cover and then uncovers the solar disk. On the ground, if atmospheric conditions are just right, the narrow crescent will reveal dramatic displays of shadow bands.
Because some portion of the solar disk is visible throughout an annular eclipse, your eyes must be protected at all times. When you use special viewing glasses, the dim corona and chromosphere are not visible; we’ll leave that to our cameras, checking the results when the eclipse is over. On the other hand, the dynamic performance of the beads and the play of light through the lunar valleys is readily apparent throughout the event and easy to follow. An annular eclipse may not quite equal the drama of totality, but it nevertheless creates its own excitement as one of nature’s true spectacles.
Annular eclipse viewing prospects at Lalibela, Ethiopia
The 2020 annular solar eclipse is special: a one-minute event so close to total (99.2% to be exact) that it will be possible to capture prominences, the chromosphere and some corona with a camera, while viewers with eye protection will see a profusion of beads rotating around the lunar limb. The path of the eclipse stretches from Central Africa to Guam – a significant swathe of the Earth, but one plagued by oppressive humidity, searing heat, hazy and dusty skies, and the thin air of high-altitude plateaus. Only one location stands out for a comfortable, convenient eclipse view: the Ethiopian Highlands and, in particular, the city of Lalibela. Ideally situated on the central line of the eclipse path, Lalibela has an elevation of 2,590 m (8,500 ft), well above the heat and humidity of the tropics. And while sunshine is not as abundant on the Ethiopian Highlands plateau as it is over the deserts of Arabia and Pakistan, it is nonetheless generous. Most clouds are convective in nature and tend to dissipate as the temperature falls ahead of the eclipse; but because the eclipse comes during the morning hours, around 8:00 a.m. local time, the clouds will be in the early stages of their growth. Satellite photos from the past 18 years show that such an eclipse would have been visible in 14 of them.
DATE(S): Sunday, June 21, 2020
MEALS: Breakfast / Lunch / Dinner
ACCOMMODATION: Zagwe hotel or similar