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Next US Total Solar Eclipse (Apr 8, 2024)

Annular Solar Eclipse: What to See

timelapse of annular eclipse
Annular Solar Eclipse: What to See

Credit: Brocken Inaglory

Be on the lookout for sunspots, Baily’s beads, and the stunning ring of fire—or the moment when the Sun appears in the sky as a single ring of light.


NEVER view an annular eclipse with your naked eyes. Use safe viewing techniques to preserve your eyesight.


Full Sun

Before the eclipse begins, and after it ends, the full disk of the Sun shines in the sky. The visible surface of the Sun is called the photosphere. While you wait for the eclipse to begin, use safe viewing techniques to look for sunspots, slightly cooler areas on the Sun that look dark compared to the bright photosphere. The Sun has an 11-year cycle of sunspot activity, and it will reach its time of greatest activity between 2023 and 2025, so there is an excellent chance that you’ll be able to see some sunspots during the October 14, 2023, annular eclipse. You can’t see the moon as it approaches the Sun, but it’s there, as will become obvious at first contact.

sun with visible sunspots

A giant sunspot observed on October 23, 2014. (NASA/SDO)


Stages of an Annular Eclipse

phases of an annular eclipse

There are 5 distinct stages of an annular solar eclipse: first contact, second contact, maximum eclipse, third contact and fourth contact.


First Contact

The eclipse begins at the moment the moon first “touches” the edge of the solar disk, approaching it from the right as seen from the Northern Hemisphere. (It doesn’t actually touch the Sun, of course—but it appears to as it begins to pass in front of the solar disk.) The moon, invisible until now in the daytime sky, becomes visible as a black disk blocking the Sun. For the next hour and a half, it slowly covers a larger and larger chunk of the Sun.

Second Contact

Second Contact occurs when annularity, or full eclipse starts. In the moment before this happens, you may see the last slice of light shining through lunar valleys, breaking up into a chain of bright “pearls” on the trailing edge of the moon. These are called Baily’s beads. Next, the Sun will appear in the sky as a single ring of light, known as the ring of fire.

Maximum Eclipse

The Moon covers the center of the Sun's disk.

annular eclipse, ring of fire, seen from the ground
Credit: Kevin Baird


Third Contact

The moon now begins to move off the face of the Sun. Once again, there may be a chance for you to see Baily’s beads along the leading edge of the moon. Over the course of the next hour and a half, the moon will slowly move, revealing more and more of the Sun.

Fourth Contact

Fourth Contact refers to the final moment that the moon appears to be touching the edge of the Sun.


Be sure to keep your eclipse glasses on while looking at the Sun. That said, you may want to remove your glasses for a few minutes to notice the shadows on the ground around you.

shadows during an annular eclipse

Eclipses are a great time to notice sun images among shadows! The left image shows images of the sun before first contact. The center image shows images of the sun during a partial phase. On the right, we see the slim crescents just before annularity.


After having experienced this eclipse, it’s time to make plans to see the very different—and very awe-inspiring—total solar eclipse in just six months’ time, on April 8, 2024!