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Sun, moon and Earth line up for spectacular 'Ring of Fire'

An annular solar eclipse occurs as the moon passes between the earth and the sun as partially seen at sunrise, May 21, from the coastal township of Gumaca, Quezon province, Philippines.
An annular solar eclipse occurs as the moon passes between the earth and the sun as partially seen at sunrise, May 21, from the coastal township of Gumaca, Quezon province, Philippines.Bullit Marquez / AP

This event held special significance for American skywatchers: It marked the first time in 18 years that an annular solar eclipse could be seen from the United States. Such eclipses occur when the moon is too far away in its elliptical orbit to cover the sun's disk completely, as seen from Earth. As a result, a little ring of the sun remains visible around the moon's dark disk, even at the height of the eclipse. (The term "annular" comes from "annulus," a Latin word meaning "little ring.")

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Check out this panoramic view shot by msnbc.com's John Brecher

People peer through special glasses to see the annular eclipse of the sun in Tokyo, Japan, May 21. The eclipse was visible from China to Texas.
People peer through special glasses to see the annular eclipse of the sun in Tokyo, Japan, May 21. The eclipse was visible from China to Texas.Kimimasa Mayama / EPA

An eclipse is seen at the Bund along the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China, May 21.
An eclipse is seen at the Bund along the Huangpu River in Shanghai, China, May 21.Aly Song / Reuters

An annular solar eclipse is seen at Hirai Daini Elementary School in Tokyo May 21. The sun and moon aligned over the earth in a rare astronomical event - an annular eclipse that will dim the skies over parts of Asia and North America, briefly turning the sun into a blazing ring of fire.
An annular solar eclipse is seen at Hirai Daini Elementary School in Tokyo May 21. The sun and moon aligned over the earth in a rare astronomical event - an annular eclipse that will dim the skies over parts of Asia and North America, briefly turning the sun into a blazing ring of fire.Issei Kato / Reuters

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