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)


  1. I stared at the sun until I went blind.
    I made an eclipse within my own mind.
    Not just one planet, not one minor sun,
    I darkened my universe.  Boy was I dumb.
     — Strange DeJim

  2. I have terrible luck with solar eclipses. They always happen either after sunset or before sunrise or on cloudy days. I think the last one that was during the day and not cloudy was when I was in school. They wouldn’t let anyone go outside (even the guy who brought a proper welder’s mask), closed the curtains, and made it sound like we would be vapourized if we attempted to even look out the window.

    1. They put the fear of good into us too when I was a kid in school.  I never got it straight – does it make it appear safe to stare at the sun?  Like is it dim enough that you could even look without a special mask?

      1. I know you’re kidding, but just for safety, remember that it isn’t the visible spectrum that does the damage first. Just like getting a sunburn on a cloudy day because of the UV, even if the occluded sun appears dim enough to safely stare at in visible light, it’s still burning your retina.

        By example, I have a couple of big sheets of congo blue and pure red lighting gels that I cut circles out of to mess around with infrared photography. I was tempted to use that filter stack to try to photograph the eclipse, since it appears completely black to normal vision… then checked trusty google to be sure I wasn’t being an idiot. Yep, I was being dumb. Glad I double checked before it cost me a lifetime of spotty vision and a DSLR.

        1. I have to mention that there is simply no reason other than laziness to do something really stupid/harmful in the age of the internet. 

          If what you’re about to do is potentially harmful, and seems rather fun, someone has done it and bitched about it on the internet. 

          Yay for learning from the mistakes of others. 

        2. I wasn’t kidding and here is what I was looking for: “”Even when 99% of the Sun’s surface … is obscured during the partial phases of a solar eclipse, the remaining crescent Sun is still intense enough to cause a retinal burn, even though illumination levels are comparable to twilight,”  So it DOES look okay to look at, which is why there is all the fear that people will…

  3. Here in Sunny Seattle (really!) it’s not a 100% eclipse, but still like 90%…  I just called around to try to score some eclipse glasses or welding goggles (#13 or 14, if you look) and *no one* has any.  All sold out.

    Hole in a box for us, I guess.

  4. The NASA script doesn’t seem to handle DST, mapping Vancouver at 8 W instead of 7. 

    Be warned.

  5. Understand a solar eclipse? What’s there to understand about a giant goat eating the sun that we all need to scare away with chanting and drumming?


  6. Anyone know how long it takes to burn out a sensor in a digital camera stopped down to F-22?
    It will be near sundown where I am and the atmosphere should help filter it.

    1.  You have two days to find out. Test away! Preferably with a very used or very inexpensive camera.

      I don’t think it’s a problem, actually. The modern sensors are much more durable than the old tube-based video cameras.

      But only take photos of the sun with a throwaway camera!

    2.  You have two days to find out. Test away! Preferably with a very used or very inexpensive camera.

      I don’t think it’s a problem, actually. The modern sensors are much more durable than the old tube-based video cameras.

      But only take photos of the sun with a throwaway camera!

  7. I was lucky to find out this afternoon that the office in the astronomy building I work in was selling paper sun-gazing glasses with super-dark lenses for two bucks each.  They were also distributing an email titled “Look right into the sun this month!” or some such highly-irresponsible phrasing.

  8. Forget the complicated stuff with filters, goggles, or projection boxes.  Just throw a sheet of white paper on the ground under a tree.  The gaps between the leaves create hundreds of pinhole camera obscuras.  Seeing a field of many circular images with a chunk cut out of each one is awesome.

    1.  I discovered that trick in 1991. The sidewalk served as the canvas. This year, it will be a bunch of doughnuts.

    2. Oh boy…you can see shadows of an eclipse instead of the eclipse itself! How EXCITING!

  9. I never understood the appeal of a pinhole camera for an eclipse. You are basically seeing a crude drawing of the eclipse. It is 2012 people! Set up a cheap camera on a tripod. And if you want to see it live. hook it up to a laptop or something. Or hell…just glance up at he damn thing. Some people seem to think that even seeing it for a split second will fry your eyeballs like a couple of eggs.

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