May 20, 2012: Annular Eclipse For Western US Will Be Spectacular
May 20, 2012

May 20, 2012: Annular Eclipse For Western US Will Be Spectacular

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Lawrence LeBlond for

Something is happening in the western US that hasn´t happened in nearly two decades, and national parks from California to New Mexico are preparing for the show of a lifetime, inviting people to watch either the partial or annular solar eclipse that will occur on May 20, 2012.

It will be the first annular eclipse of the sun visible from the west coast in 18 years, and Bluewater Lake State Park will hold a special viewing program at 6:30 p.m. on the day of the event, according to a New Mexico State Parks Division news release about the event.

While the event won´t be quite as spectacular as a total solar eclipse, anyone within a 200-mile-wide strip of territory between the Oregon-California coast and northwestern Texas, should have the chance to see a rare occurrence, weather permitting of course.

The annular -- “Ring of Fire” -- eclipse will occur near sunset, and will be visible in some of the most picturesque areas of the country, including the Grand Canyon and 32 other national parks.

“This will be spectacular,” National Park Service (NPS) Director Jonathan B. Jarvis told “Redwoods National Park and Lassen Volcanic National Park, both in California; Zion National Park in Utah, Glen Canyon National Recreation Area in Arizona and Canyon De Chelly National Monument and Petroglyph National Monument, both in New Mexico;” these are all parks located near the central path of the eclipse.

The annular eclipse on May 20 will provide an excellent show for those standing on the central line of the eclipse. It will resemble a bulls-eye, with a ring of the Sun visible around the Moon. The Moon would need to be closer to Earth for it to produce a total eclipse, which would block out the Sun completely and cast a large shadow on the Earth.

Jarvis compared an annular event to that of Pac-Man taking a bite out of the Sun. “That 'bite' will take out 55 to 80 percent of the disk of the sun, depending on where you are, and that´s still a very special experience,” Jarvis told MSNBC's Cosmic Log writer Alan Boyle.

For those who cannot get to the central line to view the annular eclipse, there is still a spectacular partial eclipse to see. Of course this event will be mainly a western event and those east of the Mississippi will not get much of a show.

Even though this is not a total eclipse, it is important for viewers to wear special solar glasses or other protection to view the event. Proper safety eyewear is available for less than a dollar from Eclipse shades are available as well from Rainbow Symphony and other online vendors.

For those who wish not to get spendy, you can also put a solar filter on your telescope or binoculars. The filters should be specially designed for solar viewing, and regular sunglasses will not do the trick. And as for your camera, taking a picture of the Sun directly is a good way to damage your point-and-shoot.

NASA´s top eclipse expert, Fred Espenak, offers a guide to photographing any kind of solar eclipse easily and safely at .

Another way to view the eclipse is to fashion a “pinhole camera” from a box, aluminum foil and a sheet of white paper. Go to to see how to make this easy and affordable viewing device.

Perhaps the simplest way to get a sense of the eclipse is to just find a semi-shady spot under a tree and watch the circles of sunlight falling through the leaves. During a partial eclipse, the circles will turn into half-moons or crescents. If the sun goes annular, you´ll see bright rings on the ground.

In addition to viewing the eclipse, national park rangers and astronomers from the NPS, local astronomy clubs and NASA will converge on several national parks with programs and activities for park visitors. NASA has put up a clickable map online that shows you when different stages of the eclipse occur for the locality you click. The times on the site, however, are in Universal Time, so you will have to subtract seven hours for Pacific Daylight Time, six hours for Mountain Time, and five hours for Central Time.

The event will be a spectacle not to be missed, as long as you have the proper gear and are in a place suitable for optimum viewing conditions. The eclipse will take place over the course of three-and-a-half hours, during which time the Moon will blot out at least part of the Sun. At least some of the eclipse may be visible from Southeast Asia to Greenland, but for the best show, you have to be in the Western US.

Perhaps the best place to see the eclipse is at Bluewater Lake State Park in the Zuni Mountains of New Mexico. The state park´s location sits just south of the eclipse centerline and the clear view across the lake to the western horizon makes it an ideal spot to witness the rare event.

While the eclipse will last for more than three hours, the “Ring of Fire” effect will only last a few minutes, 4.5 minutes to be exact. It will take place at about 7:30 p.m. as the Sun hangs low on the western horizon, according to New Mexico State Parks Division´s news release.