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On Saturday, much of the U.S. will get a view of a 'ring of fire' solar eclipse

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

On Saturday, the moon will pass between the Sun and Earth, creating a solar eclipse. Much of the U.S. will get partial views, but the prime view will be reserved for people living in a sliver of the U.S. spanning eight states, Oregon to Texas. Here's NPR's Regina Barber with more.

REGINA BARBER, BYLINE: This weekend's solar eclipse is called the ring of fire, which Samaiyah Farid, a solar astrophysicist, says happens because...

SAMAIYAH FARID: The moon doesn't orbit the Earth in a perfect circle. It's an ellipse. So sometimes it's closer, and sometimes it's further away. When it's a little bit further away and cannot block out completely the sun's surface, we see a ring of fire effect. And those are called annular eclipses.

BARBER: Remember; an annular eclipse is not safe to look at with the naked eye because even though the moon is blocking most of the sun...

FARID: There's still a lot of light coming through from the sun that - it will damage your eyes if you look at it with your bare eye.

BARBER: So please make sure you're wearing an eclipse glasses or using a solar filter when viewing the sun. The only solar eclipse that's safe to watch without special eye protection is a total eclipse, when the moon fully blocks the sun's body and we can briefly see the faint but beautiful solar corona. The next total eclipse across the U.S. takes place next April. After these two, people in the U.S. won't be treated with another solar eclipse for 20 years. And if you ask Farid, it is a treat to see one.

FARID: I think if anyone who observes a total solar eclipse in person - your life is going to be changed.

BARBER: Farid isn't alone. Many people book special trips to experience solar eclipses, and for the Dine or Navajo people, solar eclipses are part of a long, sacred tradition.

CODY CLY: We see the sun as our deity. We call it Tsohanoai. And our moon - we see it as another being. So for us, the significance of eclipses in general is that one of the two beings in the sky is dying and being reborn. And so whenever we have eclipses, those are just very significant moments.

BARBER: That's Cody Cly, a Dine Ph.D. student studying astrophysics. He traveled from Texas to Utah to act as a cultural expert for fellow scientists who plan to livestream the eclipse.

CLY: It's important to me significantly because, you know, it's helping me reconnect with my roots. For me, I've come so far from, you know, just growing up and living on the reservation to just going into grad school, something thought I'd never do, and doing, you know, astrophysics. You know, this is just stuff I dreamed about.

BARBER: The solar eclipse is set to traverse directly over the Navajo Nation, where Cly grew up. At that time, many Dine people will go indoors and reflect or pray. Regina Barber, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLVR SONG, "BACK N FORTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Regina Barber