A mostly-complete guide to the May 20, 2012 annular solar eclipse

What exactly is today’s annular eclipse?

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun, totally or partially obscuring the image of the sun. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s apparent diameter is smaller than the sun, causing the Sun to look like an annulus (ring), blocking most of the sun’s light. An annular eclipse appears as a partial eclipse over a region thousands of kilometres wide.

The eclipse today (May 20) will be an annular solar eclipse and is the first of its kind to be widely visible from much of the United States since 1994. Annular eclipses only occur when the moon is at a point in its orbit that is too far from Earth to completely block the sun’s disk. The result is a  ring-like effect that will be visible to observers lucky enough to be in the path of the eclipse’s shadow.

Nearly all North America gets at least a partial eclipse on May 20th, with the moon taking a big bite out of the sun. The eclipse will still be in progress at sunset for much of the U.S., Canada, and Mexico.

This map shows the path (p.m., local time). Areas outside the path of annularity will see a partial eclipse.

This chart shows the path of the May 20, 2012 annular solar eclipse across the western and southern United States. Major cities are listed inside the boundaries of the solar eclipse visibilty path.

This chart notes the cities and times to view the annular solar eclipse of May, 20-21, 2012

Take precautions, and view the eclipse properly

Make a quick pinhole viewer. It is very simple, and all you need are 2 pieces of white card stock or similar. Make a small hole in one, hold this card above the other one. Move the cards in line with the sun and you will see the sun’s image projected on the bottom card 

Other ways to experience the eclipse

For other locations, a useful iphone app called Annular Solar Eclipse 2012 which you can download in iTunes for free lets you know if you’ll be able to see the solar eclipse.

If you want to watch the solar eclipse online, tune in to Panasonic’s live video stream from Mt. Fuji. It’s directly in the path, and you won’t burn your retina by watching online.

The Slooh Space Camera is also broadcasting the event live, using telescope feeds from Japan, California, Arizona and New Mexico. Slooh’s live online feed begins at 5:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday.


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