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.
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.
The next solar eclipse will be the total solar eclipse on November 13, 2012.
Here’s a video from NASA:
Nancy Atkinson is currently Universe Today’s Contributing Editor. Previously she served as UT’s Senior Editor and lead writer, and has worked with Astronomy Cast and 365 Days of Astronomy. Nancy is the author of the new book “Incredible Stories from Space: A Behind-the-Scenes Look at the Missions Changing Our View of the Cosmos.” She is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.