On May 20, millions of people in the western region of the United States and the eastern part of Asia will get to see an extraordinary show. The solar eclipse will block out most of the sun and appear as a ring of fire.
A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth. Our satellite either totally or partially blocks out the sun – the disk of the sun is completely blocked by the moon (total eclipse) or only part of the sun is obscured (partial and annular eclipses).
As the sun is blocked, the day and sky is darkened for several minutes creating an eerily feeling. Solar eclipses transpire between two and five times per year – only six years since 1585 have five solar eclipses occurred (next one will be in 2206).
In order to view a solar eclipse, individuals must wear special eye protection to avoid damage (never look directly at the sun with the naked eye, binoculars or telescope).
The natural solar phenomenon was once regarded as a bad omen or even supernatural back in the age of antiquity (it was quite understandable, though, since the sun is blocked out and day becomes night in a matter of minutes).
Be prepared to view this spectacular demonstration on May 20 when the solar eclipse will block out 94 percent of the sun. The event will happen in North America in the late afternoon and early evening and the following day in Asia.
This will leave a ring of fire image for observers in the western part of the United States and East Asia. Unfortunately, most of the east coast in North America will miss the eclipse because the sun will have set by the time it begins.
Space.com (via MSNBC) has produced a chart that notes the time and place to view the annular solar eclipse on May 20. In Toronto, the eclipse begins at 8:19 p.m. EDT and ends at 8:40 p.m., while those in Phoenix will get to view it at 5:29 p.m. MST.
Sunday’s big event is just another one of 2012’s delightful sky pleasures. Since February, planets have appeared to the naked eye, a supermoon took place last weekend and Venus will cross the face of the sun in an once-in-a-lifetime event in June.