A select few folks in the western United States will see a rare, full annular eclipse – in which the new Moon passes between the Earth and Sun, blotting it out – on the late afternoon of Sunday, May 20, 2012. It’s an effect eclipse-watchers call the “Ring of Fire”.
The path of the fully visible eclipse starts near Lubbock, Texas, and then progresses along a line roughly from Albuquerque, New Mexico to a line between Cedar City and St. George, Utah, then to Reno, Nevada until it moves offshore near Crescent City, California. It then progresses across the Pacific Ocean.
Bryce Canyon, Zion and the Grand Canyon national parks, and Cedar Breaks National Monument will also be in its path! Tiny Kanarraville, Utah, has identified itself as “The Sweet Spot” on the eclipse’s center line, and the full eclipse there will be precisely at 8:37 p.m. MDT. Iron County tourism officials have even published an attractive poster, publicizing the event.
A partial eclipse will be visible in a much wider area, either side of that “center line”, through the western two-thirds of the U.S.
The full eclipse will then also be visible to limited areas in southern China and Japan, and the inhabitants of a few isolated Pacific Islands, and the southern tip of South America. (NASA has a cool interactive map of this eclipse’s path.)
The more common kind of eclipse is when the Earth is the meat in a Sun-Moon sandwich, and the Earth’s shadow covers the Sun or the Moon. In an annular eclipse, like this one, the Moon itself gets between the Earth and Sun, and almost entirely covers up the Sun. The effect is rather eerie because there’s a new Moon on May 20, which means Earthlings wouldn’t normally be able to find the dark side of the Moon in the afternoon sky. One minute, it’s a nice sunny afternoon on Earth, and here comes a previously “invisible planet”! The Moon isn’t quite big enough to cover the entire Sun, leaving a so-called “Ring of Fire” around the edges.
It’s been at least 18 years since a central solar eclipse has passed over this area. But for those who live in the areas where the eclipse is visible at 100 percent (like me, in Brian Head, Utah!) it will be a once in a lifetime sight.
April 2, 2012