Web edition: May 18, 2012
Look at the shadows cast by tree leaves late Sunday afternoon, and they might look a little different than usual. The usual dappled pattern of light passing through holes in the leaves might look a bit more curvy, a bit more ringlike.
That’s because the moon will slip in front of the sun on May 20, eclipsing most of the star’s disk but leaving the glowing edges uncovered, an event called an annular eclipse. During such an eclipse, the sun resembles a ring of fire in the sky with a big black hole at its center.
But don’t look at it without proper filters, even when the eclipse is at its most complete. No sense in permanently recording the image in the form of eye damage.
Viewers along the Pacific coasts from southeast Asia to California will be in a prime spot to witness this celestial game of hide-and-seek, which begins around 5:30 p.m., Pacific time. Over the next hour, the sun will slowly slide behind the moon, which is near its farthest point from Earth (that’s why the lunar footprint isn’t big enough to block the entire sun).
Then, around 6:30 p.m., those in the “path of annularity” — the roughly 200-mile-wide strip where the black hole sun will appear and cast its crescent shadows — will have about four minutes to use their favorite solar viewing equipment to glimpse the eclipse at its fullest. Or to admire oddly shaped shadows. The path of annularity crosses the United States in a swath that runs from northernmost California to western Texas.
Those of you on the U.S. East Coast are out of luck, as the sun will have already plunged below the horizon. But never fear: the SLOOH Space Camera is here and will be broadcasting the eclipse live, from telescope feeds in the United States and Japan.
For more information on the eclipse, the path of annularity, and safe viewing tips: [Go to]