WATCH LIVE: Africans look up as 'ring of fire' eclipse kicks off

Paris - Stargazers in south and central Africa will be treated to a spectacular solar eclipse Thursday, 1 September, when the moon wanders into view to make the sun appear as a "ring of fire", astronomers say.

UPDATE: PICS: Missed the rare 'Ring of Fire' eclipse? See its peak in Africa

The phenomenon, known as an annular solar eclipse, happens when there is a near-perfect alignment of the Earth, moon and sun.

But unlike a total eclipse, when the sun is blacked out, sometimes the moon is too far from Earth, and its apparent diameter too small, for complete coverage.

"At the eclipse's peak, all that will be visible is a ring of light encircling the black disk that is the moon," said astronomer Pascal Descamps of the Paris Observatory, in the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion to witness the event. "That will be the magic moment," he told AFP.

Daylight should be slightly dimmed, as on a very cloudy day.

South Africans will be able to witness the eclipse, but not the entire 'ring of fire' effect. Only people along a very narrow, 100km band stretching across central Africa, Madagascar and Reunion will see the full effect of the ring, or annulus.

You can catch the eclipse live via streaming from Johannesburg here: 

Remember, anyone north, south, east or west of the band where the 'ring of fire' will be seen, will see only a partial eclipse. 

ALSO SEE: SA sees sizzling start to spring as partial solar eclipse set to delight

The display will start at 06:13 GMT (08:13 CAT) in the south Atlantic, passing over Gabon, the two Congos, Tanzania and the northern tip of Mozambique and Madagascar.

Reunion island will get a good view before the eclipse ends around 12:00 GMT (14:00 CAT) over the Indian Ocean, said the Paris Observatory.

At the eclipse's peak, between 10:08 and 10:11 GMT (12:08 and 12:11 CAT) the Moon will cover about 94% of the sun.

South Africans can also catch a glipse of the partial eclipse.

LIVE: The solar eclipse is well underway in Johannesburg. Sadly Capetonians are missing out due to overcast conditions:

Gazing at the sun? Remember to protect your eyes!

The experts warn that sunglasses offer insufficient protection for looking at the sun, even when it is partly masked.

"Looking at the sun without special protection, even for a few seconds, can cause irreversible damage to the retina", even blindness, said Descamps.

Special eclipse glasses can filter out the sun's harmful ultraviolet and infrared rays.

One could also use a pinhole camera, which can be easily built at home - basically a box with a hole on one side for light to pass through and project an inverted image on the opposite side.

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