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There's nothing prettier than the wide-open skies in the Texas Hill Country. For example, if you find yourself a dark and secluded spot at night, you'll see the cloud-like specter of the Milky Way overhead, an intimate view of the billions of neighbors in our home galaxy. Meteors streak by every night, and during certain times of the year showers of them put on a brilliant sky show. The sunrises and sunsets over the picturesque backdrop of the mountains and valleys present a brilliantly-colored start and end to every Hill Country day!
However, we're here to talk about a spectacular sky event that will take place directly over the Hill Country in broad daylight. If you've been wondering to yourself, when is the next solar eclipse?, well, wonder no more! On Saturday, October 14, 2023, we'll be treated to a nearly total one right over our neck of the woods! This is a fairly rare astronomical event that occurs when our moon crosses directly in front of the sun during the day, darkening the skies and displaying a beautiful ring of fire. We're perfectly positioned in the Solar System for this to happen, but since the moon's diameter is roughly 1/400th that of the sun, it's not often it comes directly between us and the sun to put on such a show. After all, it's like a golf ball blocking out something 54 feet across!
We take the physics and mathematics that accurately predict solar eclipses for granted today, but such wasn't always the case. Back in 2137 BC, the Chinese empire experienced a total solar eclipse. This was a very serious event, for the people needed to be forewarned so they could hit their gongs and shout at the heavens to frighten away the dragons that were trying to devour the precious sun! The royal astronomers at the time, Hsi and Ho, not only failed to predict the eclipse, but they were also so drunk that they slept through it entirely. For these grievous errors, both gentlemen were put to death. Luckily, the Hill Country eclipse on October 14, 2023 won't generate such dramatic fallout.
The solar eclipse of 2023 will be what is called an “annular” eclipse; this means the moon will fully cross over the sun from our point of view, but won't obscure it entirely; this will allow a bright circle of light to show through even when it is centered directly in front of our host star. Its appearance has earned the annular eclipse the nickname “ring of fire.”
(This is in comparison to a more rare full eclipse, when the moon appears larger and blocks out the sun completely. Spoiler alert: incredibly, we’ve got one of those coming, too! On Monday, April 8, 2024, the Hill Country will fall in the path of totality of a full solar eclipse.)
Here’s a brief timeline of the annular eclipse. At approximately 10:23 AM, the moon will start to “take a bite” out of the sun, and will slowly track over it until covering the star completely, at 11:54 AM. It will then move away slowly, and the last of the moon covering any part of the sun at all will occur at 1:33 PM. The period of time the moon covers the sun almost completely is called “annularity,” creating the lauded “ring of fire” effect, and that will last just over four minutes, with the full duration of the eclipse (from the moon first obscuring a tiny sliver of the sun until it departs on the other side) spanning just over three hours.
The above 2023 solar eclipse path times are calculated for San Antonio, which is just east of the southern Hill Country. The times and duration of the annularity will depend on where you are on the ground, of course, and for more accurate times of annularity in specific Hill Country towns, we've prepared the following list, alphabetical by town:
Bandera: Annular phase begins at 11:53:01 AM, duration of annularity 4 minutes, 45 seconds
Boerne: Annular phase begins at 11:53:28 AM; duration of annularity 3 minutes, 57 seconds
Castroville: Annular phase begins at 11:53:48 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 57 seconds
Comfort: Annular phase begins at 11:50:53 AM; duration of annularity 3 minutes, 53 seconds
Concan: Annular phase begins at 11:52:19 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 42 seconds
D’Hanis: Annular phase begins at 11:53:13 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 56 seconds
Fredericksburg: Annular phase begins at 11:52:38 AM, duration of annularity 2 minutes, 11 seconds
Helotes: Annular phase begins at 11:53:48 AM, duration of annularity 4 minutes, 25 seconds
Hondo: Annular phase begins at 11:53:24 AM, duration of annularity 5 minutes
Kerrville: Annular phase begins at 11:52:30 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 15 seconds
Lakehills: Annular phase begins at 11:53:23 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 45 seconds
Leakey: Annular phase begins at 11:51:57 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 55 seconds
Medina: Annular phase begins at 11:52:40 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 51 seconds
Pipe Creek: Annular phase begins at 11:53:14 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 34 seconds
Seguin: Annular phase begins at 11:54:58 AM; duration of annularity 42 seconds
Tarpley: Annular phase begins at 11:52:47 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 58 seconds
Utopia: Annular phase begins at 11:52:27 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 58 seconds
Vanderpool: Annular phase begins at 11:52:15 AM; duration of annularity 4 minutes, 59 seconds
As you can see, since the path of the moon's shadow over the earth during an eclipse is a very narrow one, the duration of annularity can vary even among locations that are fairly close to one another. However, the path of this particular eclipse will favor the majority of folks in the Hill Country with a great view! As an added bonus, the 2023 eclipse will take place at the beginning of the fall foliage season, when the forests of the Hill Country are at their colorful best!
TIPS FOR VIEWING THE HILL COUNTRY ECLIPSE
First and foremost, DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN, during an eclipse or at any other time. The brightness and concentrated radiation are simply too much for your eyes to take, and can result in permanent damage to your retinas. This warning applies to cameras (including the one on your phone), binoculars, and telescopes, too; their lenses and other components can be damaged by the sun, as well. Glasses and special photographic solar filters are made so viewing and picture taking can be done safely, and they should be in good condition; scratched or damaged eclipse glasses or filters shouldn't be used. Dark sunglasses won't work for this, by the way, they just don't offer enough protection. Make sure what you get is specifically manufactured for the purpose of eclipse viewing.
Indirect viewing through a pinhole projector is a much safer way to observe the 2023 eclipse—and it's simple, too. All you need to do is take any piece of stiff cardboard, such as poster board or a section of a box. Trace a circle on the cardboard, using a glass or similar round object as a template, and carefully cut the circle out. In a pinch, even a paper-punch hole in an index card will work. Hold this simple viewer parallel to a flat and light-colored surface, such as a sidewalk or patio. As the eclipse gets underway, your viewer will project an image of the sun as the moon slowly covers its disc. This is not only a safe way to enjoy the Hill Country eclipse, but will give the young ones a project beforehand; they love taking an active part in the proceedings!
The solar eclipse of 2023 will take place near noon over the Hill Country, so the sun will be pretty high in the sky. However, you should scout out a spot beforehand that won't leave any obstructions between yourself and the sun, such as tree limbs or tall structures. By planning ahead, you can assure everyone in your group will have an unobstructed view of the spectacular ring of fire.
Fall is always something to look forward to in the Hill Country, as the thousands of trees blaze with a stunning color display. The fall of 2023 will be even more exciting, with an amazing astronomical shadow show taking place directly over our heads. There's no more beautiful setting than the Hill Country for an eclipse celebration; you can build a romantic getaway around it, or a larger gathering to share with those near and dear to you. However you decide to enjoy the eclipse, Backroads Reservations will help set you up with the perfect hideaway. We look forward to hearing from you, and to welcome you to our stellar stomping grounds!
We’re also working on arranging a large number of RV spots for eclipse viewing, so as the date of the 2023 eclipse draws closer, watch this space for more information!