Ring of Fire! Annular Solar Eclipse on May 20

by Nancy Atkinson on May 17, 2012

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As the solar eclipse on May 20th progresses, its partial and annular phases will look very similar to this eclipse on May 10, 1994. Photo by Fred Espenak/SkyandTelescope.com.

There’s a great reason to look up this weekend and hope for clear skies! On May 20-21 an annular eclipse of the Sun will be visible from a 300 kilometer-wide track that crosses eastern Asia, the northern Pacific Ocean and the western United States. An annular eclipse means the Moon will not cover the Sun completely, and so when the Moon is directly in front of the Sun, there will be a bright ring of visible light on the surrounding edges, creating a so-called ‘ring of fire.’ The eclipse begins at 20:56 UTC (16:56 EDT US time) on May 20, and ends at 02:49 UTC May 21 (22:49 on May 20 EDT).

Not in that swath? See the map below, but you may be able to see a partial eclipse if you are in Asia, the Pacific and the western two-thirds of North America.

A map of the area where the annular eclipse can be seen. The dark strip in the center indicates the best locations for viewing the eclipse. The eclipse is also visible in the areas that are shaded red, but less of the Sun's disk is obscured. The fainter the red shading the less of the Sun's disk is covered during the eclipse. Click on this image for an interactive map from TimeandDate.com

Still not in the path of the Sun during that time? There will be several webcasts, including one from SLOOH, and more from Hong Kong, the summit of Mt. Fuji in Japan, and Area 51 in Nevada USA (no alien spaceships will be seen in this webcast, guaranteed.)

An important note if you ARE in an area where you can see the eclipse. DO NOT look directly at the Sun, and especially do not look through a telescope or binoculars at the Sun with your eyes directly. That ‘ring of fire’ will indeed burn, burn, burn your retinas, and could cause serious and permanent eye damage. There are special eclipse glasses, or you can make your own eclipse viewers. Mr. Eclipse has a whole list with instructions for pinhole cameras, and other safe viewing methods. If you have a telescope, the folks from Galileoscope have instructions for how to build a Sun-funnel for safe viewing

We posted an article last week about special eclipse glasses you can purchase, but you might be running out of time to buy them.

If you take any images of the eclipse (again, know what you are doing and be careful!) please share them with us via our Flickr page, or send them in via email. We’ll have a grand eclipse gallery of images from around the world!

Some of the spacecraft will also be observing the eclipse and will provide images and movies, such as the JAXA/NASA Hinode mission. You will be able to see the images and videos here, and as an added bonus Hinode’s X-ray Telescope will be able to provide images of the peaks and valleys of the lunar surface.

Unfortunately, the orbits the Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), the Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), and the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO) will not provide them with a view of the eclipse.

You can see more eclipse information from Sky and Telescope, NASA and TimeandDate.com

The next solar eclipse will be the total solar eclipse on November 13, 2012.

Here’s a video from NASA:

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

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brandalwhi May 18, 2012 at 10:48 PM

I seem to be having trouble translating UTC to PDT, because I keep getting 1:56, but the local Astronomy group says 5:08. Are they correct? What mistake could I have made to make my calculation so far off? (PDT is UTC – 7 according to my source)

Edit

Oh, I think I got it. It starts earlier for the people further inland than people closer to the coast, is that it?

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