Friday, May 18, 2012

Solar eclipse to be viewable by Mid-Southerners on Sunday

On Sunday, May 20, an annular eclipse of the Sun will be visible within a narrow corridor along Earth's northern Hemisphere, beginning in eastern Asia, crossing the North Pacific Ocean, and ending in the western United States.  However, much of North America, including the Memphis metro, will be able to view a partial solar eclipse just before, and as, the sun sets for the evening.  This eclipse marks the first annular eclipse visible in North America since May 1994.  The last total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous 48 states was in 1979.  The next is a highly anticipated event in 2017.

Red area indicates where the annular eclipse can be viewed.  Credit: NASA GSFC
The specific for Memphis:
 - Partial eclipse begins: 7:28pm
 - Partial eclipse ends: 8:00pm (sunset)
 - Degree of obscuration: 33% (1/3 of the sun will be eclipsed)

A picture of an annular solar eclipse taken from space by the joint Japanese-American Hinode satellite on Jan. 4, 2011.
Photo credit: Hinode/XRT.
A solar eclipse occurs when the new moon passes between Earth and the sun, blocking out a portion of the sun from viewing.  A total eclipse is when the sun is completely blocked by the moon. An annular eclipse, like this one, is when the moon passes directly in front of the Sun, but does not completely obscure it, creating a "ring of fire."  The annular eclipse will only be viewable along a relatively narrow path described above. Those around that path will be treated to a partial eclipse, in which a "bite" appears to be taken out of the sun.
Partial solar eclipse
We remind you that you should NEVER look directly at the sun, even during an eclipse, as you risk serious and permanent eye damage or blindness.  There are several suggestions for viewing an eclipse on the Exploratorium website.  These include putting a pinhole in one piece of cardboard, then projecting the light through the pinhole onto another sheet of white cardboard.  Or, you can also try looking at the ground underneath a leafy tree.  The  gaps between the leaves will shine on the ground in the shape of the sun!

Remember that the event will occur just before sunset, so viewing may be difficult.  Just remember NOT to look directly at the sun!  There will be plenty of cool pictures on the internet late Sunday evening and Monday for you to check out!  In the meantime, we'll cross our fingers that sky conditions will permit optimal viewing.  Overcast conditions are currently not expected, though a partly cloudy sky is.

A video by NASA explains this impressive event in more detail.
Complete detail on this eclipse, also by NASA, can be found here.
Here is a map of the western USA showing where the annular eclipse will be seen completely.

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