Courtesy CestomanoA rare opportunity for many of us astrogeeks takes place this Sunday (May 20, 2012) when a good portion of North America will experience an annular solar eclipse. The celestial mechanics start around 7pm CDT when the Moon begins to cross in front of the face of the Sun. Because the Moon's orbit is near its apogee with the Earth (that is at its farthest distance) it will appear smaller and won’t cover the entire solar disk (as it does in a total eclipse), but instead, a ring of sunlight will remain exposed at maximum eclipse. Here in Minnesota we won’t get that effect as only 80-90 of the sun will be covered from our vantage point, but since it starts so late in the day we should be able to watch the sun set in partial eclipse, which should look kind of cool. Let’s hope the weather cooperates. The East Coast of the US won’t see the eclipse because it will start there after sunset.
It’s best not to look directly at the Sun with the naked eye during this type of eclipse as even a sliver of sunlight can cause damage, but there are ways of viewing a solar eclipse safely.
My favorite phenomena during the partial phases of a solar eclipse are the odd shadows created by the leaves of trees and bushes. Each dappled shadow is an image of the crescent sun.