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Getting ready for the Annular Eclipse May 20, 2012

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.


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When Halley’s Comet last come around (the Earth) was so excited about it.  I was checking out books, making special folders and writing up my own reports of the celestial event.  I made plans to camp out on the front lawn – which was a shared common plaza because I lived in an apartment complex with my parents, cousins, uncle, and grandmother.  I had to wikipedia the exact date – 1986. Huh, I was sure it was 984, because I was sure I was only 10 years old at the time.  But I do remember this much. I was cold out.  I has the patio chaise lounge padded with blankets and the hot cocoa ready for an all-nighter.  Sadly, I learned that I wouldn’t be able to see the comet from my front door. Light Pollution. That’s the one not-so-great-thing about being a child urban scientist interested in the night sky.  You really can’t see all of the great stuff, unless you have expensive equipment or reliable transportation to leave town.  In the 1980′s, my family had neither.  Who knows, had that worked out, I might have become an Astronomer instead. Oh well. (Then again, it’s said that 1986 wasn’t a great year to see Halley’s Comet for anybody.)

But I’m still an Astronomy fangirl. Sunday, May 20, 2012, the northern hemisphere will have a chance to see a rare Annular Eclipse of the sun.  Folks in Asia will get the best views of it.  Which is why the Dr. Jarita Holbrook, Astrophysicist, Anthropologist and Documentary Filmmaker, wanted to be in Tokyo, Japan this weekend to film this event.  She’s currently making a new film about the Annular Eclipse on May 20, 2012 and the upcoming full Solar Eclipse November 3, 2013, and the two scientists who study these events: Drs. Alphonse Sterling and Hakeem Olusey. (You can learn more about this project and make a contribution, too: Black Sun: Documentary Film about the 2012 Solar Eclipses.)

During an annular eclipse the moon does not block the entirety of the sun, but leaves a bright ring of light visible at the edges. Annular is Latin for little ring, which is the reason for the name of this celestial event. For the May eclipse, the moon will be at the furthest distance from Earth that it ever achieves – meaning that it will block the smallest possible portion of the sun, and leave the largest possible bright ring around the outside.  I imagine it will quite beautiful, a sight to behold.

credit: NASA

Wow! Doesn’t that just take your breath away. The moon will pass in front the fiery sun until it sets in the middle creating a black orb with a ring of fire.

credit: NASA

Black Sun seems a fitting description, doesn’t it?  I’m so glad NASA sends expensive space probes to far reaches of the universe to capture these images. But you’re probably asking yourself, Will I be able to see this magnificent sight for myself? Hmm, it depends. Folks in northern California, the middle swatch of Nevada, in the Four Corners, and the NW to SE mid-section New Mexico and a wee bit of west Texas will be able to see it.  The rest of us, save the east coast will be able to see a Partial Eclipse.

credit NASA

So get your pinhole projection ready.  You can do it with two index cards or go old school with the cardboard box over your head.  Here are some directions for making various solar eclipse viewers.  Either way, be safe and ready. The eclipse begins in the late evening, before dusk and will be quick. The moon doesn’t stand still.

Eureka, Calif.: 6:28 pm Pacific Time
Reno, Nev.: 6:31 pm Pacific Time
Grand Canyon, Ariz.: 6:35 pm Mountain Standard Time
Albuquerque: 7:36 pm Mountain Day Time
Lubbock: 8:36 pm Central Time

I’ll be following #BlackSun2012 to follow all of the updates about the Eclipse and the Documentary project in Japan.  And here’s my jam for this whole adventure: King Sun  On the Club Tip.

DNLee About the Author: DNLee is a biologist and she studies animal behavior, mammalogy, and ecology . She uses social media, informal experiential science experiences, and draws from hip hop culture to share science with general audiences, particularly under-served groups. Follow on Twitter @DNLee5.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.





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