Rare Solar Eclipse - In Pictures

The moon is endlessly creative in finding ways to amuse us. Just two weeks ago, the Earth’s only natural satellite was unusually close to us, and looked bigger and brighter than normal. The result was a Supermoon, which dazzled skywatchers across the U.S.

Now its orbit has taken the moon farther away than average, just in time it to pass directly in front of the sun this past Sunday, fittingly enough. Ordinarily, that would have caused a total solar eclipse, with the moon blotting out the sun entirely for a few minutes. But the moon appeared smaller than normal — small enough, in fact, that it couldn't block the entire sun, even when they were lined up perfectly.

So instead, the lucky folks who lived in a swath of the country from Northern California into Nevada got to see what’s known as an annular eclipse, late Sunday afternoon, the first visible in the U.S. in 18 years. What it means is that when the moon was dead-center in front of the sun, a fiery ring of sunlight surrounded the moon’s silhouette (“annulus” is Latin for “ring”).