On Wednesday and Thursday, a particularly bizarre “hybrid” eclipse will hit Australia, Indonesia and some other parts of Southeast Asia, but you don’t have to be there to see it. Don’t miss it, the next one won’t happen for almost a decade.
Amazingly, one in 10 people on Earth will be in the path of this celestial event, and thanks to the internet, even more can watch the moon pass in front of the sun on April 20, between 1:30 and 7 a.m. Universal Time. (UTC). In the US, it is 9:30 pm ET on Wednesday, April 19 and 3 am on Thursday, April 20.
As a hybrid eclipse, the moon will cover the sun completely or appear surrounded by a “ring of fire”, depending on where it is along the path of the eclipse. In-person viewers will only be able to see one of these views and will have to crawl through the video to see the other. The next hybrid eclipse will not occur again until November 31, 2031.
How to watch the April 20 solar eclipse in person
The exact time of the eclipse will vary depending on your location, so you’ll need to check when it will be visible to you. Timeanddate.com has a particularly useful tool for solving this. To use it, click Route map at the top of the page and see if you are going to be under any part of the path of the eclipse. If so, zoom in to point to where you are and click on the map to bring up an info box showing when the event will be visible in local time.
Even if you’re in the partial eclipse zone, it’s worth getting outside to catch a glimpse of this celestial event. “Let’s go have coffee and go crazy for the sky. It’s going to be fun,” says University of Melbourne astronomer Benji Metha of his plans for the eclipse. The moon will cover only about 10 per cent of the sun where it is in southeastern Australia.
[Related: April 2023 stargazing guide]
If you are in the path of the eclipse, be sure to come prepared. Never look directly at the sun. Eclipse glasses are available online, but make sure the ones you’re buying aren’t fake. Too late to buy? Instead, you can make your own eclipse projector. Unlike almost all other astronomical events, solar eclipses occur during the day, so you won’t really be able to spot other stars or deep-sky objects at the same time. The sun and the moon will be the only ones on the stage.
How to watch the April 20 hybrid eclipse online
Just because you’re in the United States or anywhere else out of the path of the eclipse doesn’t mean you have to miss all the action. The Gravity and Discovery Center and Observatory will broadcast live from Exmouth, Australia, where the entire sun will be covered for 58 seconds at 11:30am local time (11:30pm ET on April 19). For viewers on the US East Coast, the entire show will air from approximately 10 pm on April 19 to 1 am on April 20.
Timeanddate is also organizing a live broadcast of the eclipse in collaboration with the Perth Observatory in Western Australia, where approximately 70 percent of the sun will be covered. Like Exmouth, Perth is 12 hours ahead of New York City, so live video will begin at 10 p.m. ET on April 19 and continue until the partial eclipse ends around 12:46 a.m. ET on April 20.
Tune in and you’ll join solar scientists from around the world who are particularly interested in this event and the data they can collect from it. “I’m looking forward to this eclipse, because it’s a long-awaited party,” says Berkeley heliophysicist Jia Huang. “A hybrid eclipse is very rare.”
When is the next eclipse?
If you miss the show, some amazing photos from the event are sure to be posted, and you can then watch the recordings online. But if you want to see an eclipse in person, some are coming to the United States soon.
First, an annular solar eclipse will travel from Oregon to Texas on October 14, 2023, followed several months later by the next North American total solar eclipse from Texas to Maine on April 8, 2024.
What to know about the four types of solar eclipses
Solar eclipses occur whenever Earth’s moon comes between us and the sun, aligning itself to block sunlight and cause eerie darkness during the day. Eclipses are predictable, thanks to centuries of astronomical observation in many cultures, and “we can now forecast these events with incredible accuracy,” says Metha. It is good that we know when they will come so that we are not surprised. “Imagine how many car accidents a sudden solar eclipse would cause if people didn’t wait for it,” she adds.
These celestial events come in several flavors: full, partial, annular, and hybrid. In a total eclipse, the moon completely blocks the sun. For a partial eclipse, the sun and moon are not completely aligned, so only part of the sun is covered. Similarly, for an annular eclipse, part of the sun remains exposed, but this type occurs when the moon is at its furthest from Earth and appears smaller, creating a ring of light as it aligns with the sun. Hybrid eclipses, like this week’s, switch between total and annular due to the curvature of the Earth.
Solar eclipses trace paths across the Earth’s surface, with a path of totality, where a total eclipse can be seen, in the center, surrounded by various shades of partial eclipse. The path of totality of the eclipse on April 20 cuts across the northwestern corner of Australia and passes through the islands of Timor, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. The whole of Australia, the Philippines, Malaysia, and parts of other Southeast Asian countries will experience at least a partial eclipse.
[Related: How worried should we be about solar flares and space weather?]
This is such a large and populated region that almost 10 percent of the world’s population will be able to experience the next eclipse, though only 0.004 percent (about 375,000 people) will be able to see the full or annular view.
Whether you see this one or not, be sure to note the upcoming eclipses we mentioned above; maybe you’ll be one of the lucky few just below next time.