Annular solar eclipse this weekend: where to see it in the skies, and online

The joint JAXA/NASA Hinode mission captured this image of the January 6, 2011 solar eclipse.

On May 20-21 (this coming Sunday night through this coming Monday morning), sky-watchers in Asia and much of the U.S. will be able to view a “ring of fire” eclipse or a partial eclipse of the Sun, depending on their location. The rest of the world, including our readers along the East Coast of the US, will have to settle for viewing this special celestial event online.

The astronomy website has a totally awesome animated map showing how the eclipse will look to viewers in each U.S. state. But more importantly, he gives the best eclipse advice you'll get anywhere:

The safest way to view this event is to attend a planetarium, observatory or local astronomy club on May 20th.

Here's an index of astronomy clubs around the world.

For DIYers, a pinhole projector is another option.

Sky and Telescope magazine has a roundup of online viewing spots here, and tips on how to view an eclipse safely for those in the path.

The Slooh Space Camera is likely to be one of your better bets for online viewing—they'll webcast the Solar Annular Eclipse from Japan, starting at 21:30 UTC / 2:30 PM PDT / 5:30 PM EDT.

NASA is, of course, an excellent online source for understanding the eclipse and determining the time of this one at your location.

What, you ask, is a "ring of fire" eclipse? Snipped from NASA:

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. 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.

The joint JAXA/NASA Hinode mission will observe the eclipse and provide images and movies that will be available here on the NASA website.

Due to Hinode’s orbit around the Earth, Hinode will actually observe 4 separate partial eclipses. Scientists often use an eclipse to help calibrate the instruments on the telescope by focusing in on the edge of the moon as it crosses the sun and measuring how sharp it appears in the images. An added bonus: Hinode's X-ray Telescope will be able to provide images of the peaks and valleys of the lunar surface.

Astronomy/photographer buffs: share your photos in the NASA 2012 Annular Solar Eclipse gallery.

More tips on how and where to view, and more stunning photographs, at the NASA Science News blog.

And at the Life, Unbounded blog at Scientific American, astrobiologist Caleb Scharf explains why annular eclipses like Sunday's couldn't have been seen by dinosaurs.

The next solar eclipse will be the total solar eclipse on November 13, 2012.

(Image: Global path of the 2012 Annular Solar Eclipse, from gsfc's photostream)