The stars aligned over Goleta’s Camino Real Marketplace on Oct. 14, putting on a celestial performance that captivated both astronomy enthusiasts and curious onlookers. 

The Santa Barbara Astronomical Unit hosted a solar eclipse viewing event in collaboration with the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History’s Astronomy Programs to provide an educational and safe experience for attendees keen on witnessing the cosmic phenomenon.  

The highlight of the morning was, of course, the solar eclipse, a natural occurrence where the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, temporarily casting a shadow on the Earth. As a consequence of the precise alignment of the Earth, the moon and sun, the moon obscures all or part of the sun’s light, casting a surreal twilight across the surroundings. The phenomenon not only showcased the beauty of celestial mechanics but also provided scientists with a valuable opportunity to study the sun’s outer atmosphere, known as the solar corona. This specific solar eclipse is known as an “annular solar eclipse.” Unlike a total solar eclipse, where the sun is entirely covered by the moon, this eclipse only covers the center of the sun, leaving the corona (the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere) on full display, creating a brilliant ring of light, known as the “ring of fire.” This will be the last annular solar eclipse until June 21, 2039 that is visible from the United States (minus Alaska.) 

Naturally, a solar eclipse is an intriguing phenomenon to many, but just as it is dangerous to look at the sun on a daily basis, it is also unsafe to look at it during an eclipse since the sun’s corona is still visible. To ensure safe viewing, organizers offered attendees specially-filtered solar telescopes that provided a close-up view of the eclipse while protecting viewers’ eyes, the funds of which supported the museum’s day-to-day operations.

The event began at 7 a.m. and lasted until noon, allowing attendees to drop by at their convenience and ask astronomy-related questions to experts and astronomers at the scene. The eclipse’s main phase began at 8:03 a.m., when the moon started its transit in front of the sun, creating a more shadowy landscape. The peak moment occurred from 9:23-9:25 a.m., revealing a 70% partial eclipse visible from the region that was awe-inspiring to all those in attendance. By 10:48 a.m., the moon had moved entirely out of the sun’s path. 

Attendees were able to continue their solar observations using telescopes as the weather permitted. The event not only celebrated the marvels of the universe but also emphasized the importance of safe astronomical observation practices, as well as underscored the importance  of community-driven scientific events. Make sure to watch out for the next solar eclipse. Predicted to happen on April 8, 2024, this will be the first total solar eclipse since 2021 and will cross all of North America and will cover the entire sun, making it appear as if it were dusk.

A version of this article appeared on p. 11 of the Oct. 26, 2023 print edition of the Daily Nexus.