Skywatchers who get up early on Thursday, June 10 are in for a rare treat: On that morning, people in the northeastern United States and eastern Canada will see the Sun rise while in the midst of a deep partial eclipse. The event will be of special interest to photographers, who will have the chance to capture the rising Sun looking not like a circular disk, but a dramatic crescent.
Everything about this particular eclipse is a bit unusual. No one will experience totality: With the Moon near the farthest point from Earth in its orbit, it will appear too small in the sky to completely block the Sun. Observers in northern Ontario and in the high Arctic will get to see a so-called annular eclipse, sometimes called a “ring of fire,” in which the Moon blocks out most of the Sun, leaving only a thin ring of sunlight visible. However, the 430-mile-wide path of annularity only encompasses very sparsely populated areas (after hitting Ontario, the Moon’s shadow heads up over Hudson Bay, Baffin Island, the North Pole, and into eastern Siberia). In contrast, tens of millions of people live in the area where the partial eclipse will be visible. And, in particular, those observing from a line stretching roughly from Toronto to New York City will see the Sun maximally eclipsed as it rises. (For those northeast of that line, maximum eclipse comes after the Sun has risen; for those southwest of the line, maximum eclipse will have already happened before sunrise.)
“To see a thin, crescent sun rising—it’s something you’ll remember for the rest of your life,” said Steve Fentress, planetarium director at the Rochester Museum and Science Center.
In fact, depending on one’s exact location, the two “horns” of the crescent Sun may poke above the horizon first, before the full crescent is visible, though a nearly flat northeastern horizon would be essential for such a view. Fentress is planning to observe from the southern shore of Lake Ontario, which is likely to draw quite a few eclipse chasers that morning. The New Jersey shoreline, between New York and Atlantic City, should also be a prime viewing area.
Safety, of course, is paramount; even a tiny sliver of the Sun’s disk is unsafe to look at for any length of time without proper protection (such as the solar viewing glasses that you may have saved from the 2017 total eclipse). But, there’s a qualifier: Most of us have glimpsed the Sun just as it was rising or setting, with no serious eye damage, so a very quick glance is probably fine. Just don’t stare, no matter how extraordinary the sight is. “At sunrise or sunset, you’re looking through an enormous amount of atmosphere—and that atmosphere protects you, to a certain extent,” said Jackie Faherty, a senior scientist at the American Museum of Natural History. “It is not 100% protective though. My advice is to definitely use those eclipse-viewing glasses.”
The American Astronomical Society maintains a handy list of reputable manufacturers of eclipse glasses and of retailers who stock them. As well, people may want to check with their local science center or planetarium or the astronomy department at their local university before turning to the web.
Photographers, meanwhile, are hoping to produce spectacular images of the substantially eclipsed Sun just above the horizon, like this amazing shot of the partially eclipsed Sun rising behind the Empire State Building in 2013, captured by Chris Cook, or this shot of the mostly eclipsed Sun setting behind a row of wind turbines in New Mexico, snapped by Evan Zucker during an annular eclipse in 2012.
Safety is an issue for photographers as well. “If you have a DSLR, the light comes through the lens and into your eye—which is dangerous,” said Zucker. But if you have the option of viewing the image on your camera’s LCD screen instead, then you’re good to go. (Even so, photographers should be cautious of unfiltered sunlight hitting their camera’s sensor for a prolonged period of time, as it could damage the sensor.)
A bit of planning will go a long way. Online tools like this sunrise and sunset calculator at timeanddate.com are great for getting the exact time of sunrise, as well as the direction in which the Sun will rise, on any given day; data tables like this one, at eclipsewise.com, list the exact times for the June 10 eclipse, for various locations (start by clicking on your region, e.g. “North America”).
Wherever you are, an alarm clock may be essential. In New York City, the Sun will rise at 5:24 a.m., with maximum eclipse happening just eight minutes later, when the Sun will be 73% obscured by the Moon. For those in Toronto, sunrise comes at 5:35 a.m., with maximum eclipse just five minutes later, with 80% of the Sun covered. (The second map on this page, at greatamericaneclipse.com, shows exactly what the sun will look like as it rises, from a number of locations in the Northeast.)
For those determined to see the actual “ring of fire” (and those who fear that the morning of June 10 might be cloudy, which is always possible) the editors of Sky & Telescope have arranged a charter flight for keen eclipse chasers. Setting out from Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport, the three-hour flight, with strictly limited seating, will take eclipse enthusiasts into the path of annularity north of Lake Superior, giving passengers a solid four-and-a-half minutes to gawk at the spectacle of a doughnut-shaped Sun looming just above the horizon.
“Especially in these pandemic times, when there’s so little to be excited about, this is a celestial sky show not to be missed,” said Kelly Beatty, a senior editor at Sky & Telescope who is helping to organize the eclipse flight. But even those stuck at ground level are—again, weather permitting—in for a rare treat. “All you need to do is get up early on June 10, and you’ll be rewarded with something that’s both beautiful and awe inspiring,” said Beatty.
Dan Falk (@danfalk) is a science journalist based in Toronto. He has seen five total solar eclipses and many partial eclipses over the last 30 years.