WESTERN KY (5/11/12)—In just over a week from now, many residents of North America will get the chance to view a truly historic interstellar event that hasn’t been visible from US shores in nearly 20 years: an annular solar eclipse.
While those living in the western states (from portions of California to Texas) will get to view the event as an “annular” or “fire ring” type of eclipse, much of the remaining US states, including Kentucky, will be viewing the event as a partial solar eclipse.
Set to take place on the afternoon/night of May 20th, 2012 for American onlookers, the actual annular eclipse will be the first to take place over the contiguous US since May, 1994 and scientists say it won’t take place again until October 14th, 2023. What’s more, both the partial and annular event mark the first eclipse of the new century.
What is exactly is an annular eclipse, though?
To sum it up on a more basic level, this type of eclipse takes place when the moon blocks out all light from the sun except a "small" annulus or “ring of fire” (which will look like it’s encircling the edge of our moon). The phenomenon takes place when the distance between the sun and moon isn’t large enough to produce a full solar eclipse.
Residents of Western Kentucky won’t get to see the full effect of the annular eclipse, but the moon can often cover anywhere from ½ to ¾ of the sun during the partial eclipse, meaning that what our region will see can be just as exciting.
In either case, however, there are some guidelines to follow for a successful and safe viewing of this notably rare event.
As the eclipse will be occurring in the late afternoon/evening for much of the US, an area with a clear view of the western sky/horizon will be best for viewing purposes. While times will ultimately vary by location, it is estimated that the annular eclipse will start on the west coast at 6:23pm PDT/8:23pm CST and will come to a close at sunset over Texas at 8:39pm CDT/CST. For those in western Kentucky, especially Hopkins County, the best time to catch the partial eclipse will be during the peak at around 7:25pmCST/1:25 Universal Time (UT). Whereas the partial eclipse will actually begin for area onlookers at approximately 6:26pmCST/00:26 UT and will end around 8:20pmCST/2:20 UT.
For any and all observers, eye protection is a must. As staring directly at the sun can cause permanent damage to one’s eyes, including blindness, it is essential to take the proper precautions.
Though “solar shades” (No. 14 welder’s glass) and equipment filters can be purchased from telescope stores/businesses, one of the simplest and perhaps safest ways to view the event indirectly is the “solar projection method.” To do this, however, you will need a telescope or binoculars and a shaded white piece of cardboard.
Basically, you will use your telescope or binoculars to project a magnified image of the sun’s disk onto the shaded white piece of cardboard. The bright dot of light will display a shadow as the moon swings in front of the sun. When using this method, you can take photos without risk of damage to your eyes.
To learn more about the 2012 Annular/Partial Solar Eclipse, such as how to compute your own best viewing times (different for each area), visit EarthSky.org by clicking here.
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