Will You See Today's Annular Solar Eclipse?

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Just in case you haven’t heard, an annular eclipse will dazzle the Pacific Ocean on Sunday (Monday in Asia); beginning at dawn for China and Japan, ending at sunset for western U.S. states — marching from the Oregon and Northern California coast to Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona and Texas.

For U.S. eclipse watchers, the path of “annularity” — or the annular eclipse “ring of fire” — will be seen from locations such as Medford, Oregon; Chico, California; Reno, Nevada; St. George, Utah; Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Lubbock, Texas, according to Spaceweather.com. The whole event will begin in the U.S. from 5:30 p.m. PST and last for around 2 hours. Sadly for eastern U.S. states, the eclipse will occur after sunset, hence the focus on the West Coast.

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At no time will the sun be completely blocked by the moon, however. This is an annular solar eclipse, not a total solar eclipse.

As the moon orbits the Earth, its path is slightly elongated. In today’s case, the moon will be slightly further away from the Earth, making its disk appear slightly smaller than the sun’s disk. When the moon drifts in front of the sun, the moon won’t totally block the sun’s light, leaving a bright ring surrounding the lunar disk.

BBC astronomer and Discovery News writer Mark Thompson explains:

When the moon’s disk appears the same size or larger than the sun, we see a total solar eclipse where the bright photosphere of the sun is blocked from view, revealing the intricate glory of the outer atmosphere of the sun — the corona. On occasions, though, the moon’s disk is slightly smaller than the sun as it appears in the sky leading to the strange spectacle of an annular solar eclipse. Annular solar eclipses differ visually from total eclipses as the moon isn’t large enough to block the entire photosphere from view, leaving the moon surrounded by a ring of bright sunlight (as seen in the photo, top). It’s for this reason that annular eclipses must be observed with filters or using projection techniques. At no point of the eclipse on May 20th will it be safe to look directly at the eclipsed sun with the naked eye or with optical aid.

So, what can we expect to see from the ground at various locations in the U.S.? Larry Koehn, of ShadowandSubstance.com, has put together a series of animations depicting the eclipse from the states that can view the eclipse, taking the guesswork out of what you can and can’t see.

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Although the event is historic, never look directly at the eclipse. Use only certified eclipse glasses or a solar projector. Interestingly, you could also use a leafy tree as a natural eclipse-viewing instrument — just look at the shadows cast by the leaves, you’ll see countless little suns being blocked by the moon.

Source: Spaceweather.com

Images: The eclipse at “annularity” (top). Credit: George Hall/CORBIS. The U.S. eclipse map (bottom). Credit: NASA