After a sighting of the supermoon earlier in May, get ready for another spectacular night sight this coming weekend -- a solar eclipse. Now before I get your hopes up, if you live on the East coast, you won't be able to see the eclipse; however, people in the West and Southwest will get quite a show.
- Diagram of an eclipse
The solar eclipse will occur Sunday, May 20, 2012. A solar eclipse occurs when the new moon passes directly in between the Earth and the Sun. Now there are different types of eclipses: partial, total, annular, and hybrid. The eclipse visible for folks on the West coast, Sunday, will be an annular eclipse. This is when most of the sun is covered by the moon (roughly 90%), but a sliver of the outside of the sun is visible -- resembling a ring and sometimes referred to as the "ring of fire". It is important to those viewing the eclipse that they wear protective eyewear. Even though most of the sun is covered, you still want to protect your eyes. If you think about it, you're still looking at the bright sun (although much less of it) and that exposure can be damaging to the retina.
- "Ring of Fire" in China
I found a great quote from NASA's leading eclipse expert, Fred Espenak of the Goddard Space Flight Center, giving us his take on eclipse viewing. Espenak says, "I like to compare different types of eclipses on a scale of 1 to 10 as visual spectacles. If a partial eclipse is a 5 then an annular eclipse is a 9." Expenak went on to say "On that scale of 1 to 10, a total eclipse is 'a million!". A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon covers the entire surface of the sun, so everything gets dark -- the sun is completely hidden! The last total solar eclipse seen from the United Sates was 18 years ago - May 10, 1994. If you want to see a total eclipse in the U.S., your time is getting closer -- only 5 years to go.
So why won't residents in the East coast get to see the annular eclipse? Well, the sun will have already set by the time the annular eclipse occurs. The few that will be lucky enough, in the U.S. to catch a glimpse of the annular solar eclipse will be a swath from Northern California to the Texas Panhandle. The map below also shows where people in the middle of the country will see a partial eclipse.
Even though we, in D.C., won't get to see the eclipse there will certainly be lots of images circulating the internet that we'll be able to ooh and ahh over.