THE Moon has turned the Sun into a spectacular "ring of fire", stunning millions of skywatchers.
The phenomenon – a rare annular solar eclipse – was witnessed across the Middle East and Asia, including in Singapore, where it won't be seen again till 2063.
"This will be the first and last time I'm seeing this – it is indeed a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me," said Nurul Huda, 27, in Singapore.
She was among thousands at the Science Centre who cheered during "the greatest astronomical event in Singapore", reported the Straits Times.
During an annular solar eclipse the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun – as it does during a total solar eclipse.
But in this instance, the Moon is too small to fully obscure the Sun from view, explains Tanya Hill, senior curator (Astronomy), at Museums Victoria in Australia.
Instead of eclipsing or hiding the Sun, the Moon turns it into a spectacular ‘ring of fire’ that encircles the dark Moon.
Singapore's Science Centre prepared 6,000 solar viewing glasses for visitors, who also watched the spectacle through telescopes.
The centre said that for those on the island, the “annular solar eclipse is such a rare and wonderful occurrence.
“It is a once-in-a-lifetime sight for many. After today, the next visible annular solar eclipse will occur on 28 February 2063.”
Albert Ho, president of the Astronomical Society of Singapore, explained to Reuters: "This will be the first of only two annular eclipses visible from Singapore for the rest of the century.
"So in that sense, it's a very rare event for us."
On Boxing Day, skywatchers in Saudi Arabia as well as southern India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia also looked upwards as the Sun formed a ring of fire around the Moon.
In Banda Aceh, Indonesia, thousands of people cheered and clapped as the Sun transformed into a dark orb for more than two minutes, briefly plunging the sky into darkness.
Hundreds of others prayed at nearby mosques.
Firman Syahrizal told Associated Press: "How amazing to see the ring of fire when the Sun disappeared slowly."
The previous annular solar eclipse in February 2017 was also visible over a slice of Indonesia.
What is an annular solar eclipse?
An annular solar eclipse is a special type of solar eclipse, explains Tanya Hill, senior curator (Astronomy), of Museums Victoria in Australia.
During an annular eclipse, a thin outer ring of the Sun is still visible as it forms a 'ring of fire' around the Moon.
It occurs when the Moon passes directly in front of the Sun – as it does during a total solar eclipse.
But in this instance, the Moon is too small to fully obscure the Sun from view, she explains in The Conversation.
So, instead of eclipsing or hiding the Sun, the Moon turns it into a spectacular ‘ring of fire’ that encircles the dark Moon.
This is because during an annular solar eclipse, the Moon is too far from the Earth to block out the entire Sun.
It’s a quirk of nature that Earth has a moon that is the right size – about 400 times smaller than the Sun.
And it is at the right distance, about 400 times closer to Earth than the Sun is, for a total solar eclipse to occur.
But since the Moon follows an elliptical orbit around the Earth, its distance varies slightly throughout its monthly orbit.
If the Moon happens to be at or near the most distant part of its orbit during a solar eclipse, then the Moon will appear slightly smaller in the sky – leading to an annular solar eclipse.