Solar Eclipse 2012: Annular Eclipse Makes 'Ring of Fire' Photos-Videos
If you live in a band across the southwestern United States, twilight likely seemed to come early this afternoon, well before the sun actually sets.
The cause: a rare annular solar eclipse -- a ring of sunlight as the new moon, passing between Earth and the sun, blocks most, but not all, of the sun's disc.
This is not the kind of total eclipse of which you usually see pictures -- the moon blocking the sun completely, creating a few moments of near-night in the middle of the day, with only the sun's ethereal corona visible around the moon's edges. The sky will darken a bit, but there will still be a blindingly bright ring (an "annulus" in Latin) of sun, and it's dangerous to look directly at it.
Still, there it is a striking sight to see, if you look at a heavily-filtered image projected onto a screen through binoculars or a small telescope, or protect your eyes with No. 14 arcwelders glass (not something found at most hardware stores).
The ring was visible this afternoon in a strip that began on the California-Oregon coast and stretched southeastward across Reno, Nev., the Grand Canyon, and Albuquerque, N.M., and ended at sunset near Lubbock, Texas. In the map we've provided, the best viewing was in the yellow band; outside it, people saw a partial eclipse.
San Francisco, Sacramento, Yosemite, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City and Denver all saw a partial eclipse -- the sun dwindling to a crescent. Even some distant cities, including Chicago, Dallas and Buffalo, saw a fair portion of the sun blocked by the passing moon.
Why an annular eclipse instead of a total one? Because the moon, constant in size as it may appear to us, does not move in a perfect circle around Earth. Its orbit is slightly elliptical. On average, it's about 239,000 miles away, but at its closest it comes within about 225,000 miles of us. At its farthest -- as it was today -- it's a little more than 250,000 miles away. It's just enough of a difference so that the moon will only cover 88 percent of the sun
Tonight's eclipse from Roswell, New Mexico, where the eclipse was happening as the sun was setting
Solar Eclipse over Tokyo, Japan
Credit: Sam BorderSkywatcher Sam Border snapped this photo of a partial solar eclipse as it appeared at sunset near Blue Grass, Iowa on May 20, 2012.
Solar Eclipse of 5/20/2012: Robin ShadowsCredit: David M.Skywatcher David M. captured this view of crescent shadows cast on a robin by the annular solar eclipse of May 20, 2012 from Denver, Colo.
Solar Eclipse of May 20, 2012, over Japan #2Credit: Tom BridgesSkywatcher Tom Bridges took this photo of the solar eclipse on May 20, 2012. He writes: "I live in Tokyo on the 25th floor of a building. The weather was partly cloudy…. I did not use any filters (due to the clouds helping out). This is just what I got on my Nikon D5100."
Credit: Derek MecheSkywatcher Derek Meche took these photos of the annular solar eclipse on May 20, 2012 from Lafayette, La.
A Partial Eclipse Over Manila Bay
Credit & Copyright: Armando Lee (Astron. League Philippines)
From Midland, TX as the sun was setting! Courtesy Greg Jackson
VIDEO Annular Solar Eclipse May 20, 2012
VIDEO Solar Eclipse 2012: Annular Eclipse Makes 'Ring of Fire'