(NASA)

Nature provides a cosmic gift to open September: A heavenly ring of fire around the moon. The last time an annular eclipse occurred was on April 29, 2014.

An annular eclipse is very similar to a total eclipse. The moon glides between the Earth and the sun, but the moon is slightly farther out now, so it does not fully block the sun. Because of this, a ring of fire is created around the moon as it passes in front of the sun.

Observers in the central region of Africa can see it in person, but the rest of us will have to watch online. In the United States, you can watch two ways — Slooh.com and the Astronomical Society Southern Africa’s YouTube channel. Get a nap and set the alarm — it’s very early.

Slooh.com is a webcasting site specializing in astronomical events. Its broadcast starts at 2:45 a.m. Thursday, Eastern. Astronomer Paul Cox provides the cosmic play-by-play, as other astronomers Bob Berman and Eric Edelman add color. Joining the broadcast will be Fr. James Kurzynski of the Vatican Observatory, Shaykh Abdulbary Yahya of the Al Maghrib Institute, and psychologist Kate Russo — all of whom will provide a human outlook on the eclipse experience.

Meanwhile, the Astronomical Society Southern Africa’s YouTube stream begins at 3 a.m., where the group will have properly filtered cameras providing visual feeds during the mostly partial phases.

Each eclipse belongs to a series — called a saros — and this is number 39 out of 71 eclipses in Saros 135. Each eclipse within a saros is separated by 18 years. The first eclipse in the Saros 135 family happened on July 5, 1331, and the last one will be Aug. 17, 2593.

This family’s previous eclipse was an annular event on Aug. 22, 1998, and the next one will be annular on Sept. 12, 2034.

On Thursday, the eclipse centerline path includes Gabon, Congo, Tanzania, Mozambique and Madagascar, while a partial solar eclipse can be seen through most of Africa and the southern part of Saudi Arabia, according to Espenak.

For sky gazers in southern Tanzania, the greatest eclipse starts at 09:07 Universal (5:07 a.m. Eastern) when it peaks at 3 minutes and 6 seconds, and the shadowy path is 62 miles wide, says Espenak.

If you’re reading this from Africa, always protect your eyes during any type of solar eclipse.

In mid-September, Earth’s sky gazers can enjoy a Harvest Moon penumbral lunar eclipse (the moon gets slightly darker) on Sept. 16. For those of us in North America, we won’t be able to see the eclipse live — although we can enjoy the romantic, full Harvest Moon. Slooh.com will carry that cosmic action starting at 3 p.m. Eastern.