A Great Show For Those in the Sunny USA Southwest

Annular eclipse May 20, 2012 United StatesCredit: Javrsmith

In just a few days, several of the western United States, from Oregon to Texas, will experience an annular solar eclipse. Other states to participate in the event include California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Arizona and New Mexico. This is going to be a great opportunity to witness a rare astronomical phenomenon. While the eclipse occurs in some sparsely populated regions, several large cities will enjoy the show as well.

The first large settlements to see the annular solar eclipse include Eureka and Redding California. Medford, Oregon also is visited by the moon's shadow. Residents in that city will likely want to travel south in order to increase the length of the show. The next big settlement in the annular eclipse path is Reno, Nevada. Carson City, Nevada is also lucky enough to see it. Carrying on in a southeast track, the shadow of the moon covers St. George, Utah. This is the largest settlement in Utah to experience the annular solar eclipse. It is here that those in Las Vegas, Nevada, may want to travel. The eclipse path just barely misses Las Vegas.

Albuquerque and Santa Fe, New Mexico both experience the annular eclipse on May 20, 2012. Santa Fe receives less of a show, in terms of duration of the final annular phase. People in the area might want to travel south, perhaps to Albuquerque to have a better experience. Roswell, New Mexico is also visited by the eclipse. This city is a little south of the optimum viewing track, however. People there might want to travel about 50 miles north on US-70 for a better time. Maps of the path of the annular eclipse are available online now.

The eclipse event arrives in western Texas just before it terminates. Places such as Lubbock, Odessa and Midland experience the event. Amarillo is just outside the shadow band. The annular solar eclipse ends west of Fort Worth and Dallas. Essentially, Midland, Texas is the easternmost settlement to experience this annular solar eclipse.

The annular eclipse is a rare occurrence which happens when the moon passes directly in front of the sun, as seen from people on the Earth. It is very similar to a total solar eclipse except that the moon is not able to completely obscure the light from the sun. Instead, a narrow band of sunlight streams past the moon and onto the surface of the Earth. The moon is able to eclipse a substantial portion of the sun, but not the whole orb. As a result, the light reaching the Earth's surface is still dangerous to the eyes. People viewing the annular eclipse must use protective eyewear, such as solar eclipse glasses, at all time. Indirect viewing, through a digital camera or a special solar viewing apparatus is also safe. Various filters are available to protect eyes as well. It is important to note that the amount of sunlight obscured, perhaps 98-99%, will seem to be reduced enough to be safe, but it is not. In fact, people are often tricked into thinking that they may view an annular solar eclipse without protection. This is very unwise.

Because the amount of light reaching a person's eyes is greatly reduced, they may feel that the sun is darkened enough to look at. After all, there is just a narrow sliver of sunlight reaching the ground. The amount of light streaming past the moon, however, is very significant, even though it is just a sliver. A person may even be able to stare at the annular eclipse without feeling the need to avert their eyes at all. Without adequate protection, such as with solar eclipse glasses, the optical sensors of the eye can be burned. Adding to the problem, the optic nerve does not feel pain like other nerves in the body do. As a result, damage can be done to eyesight without the person realizing it until much later. There is no safe time to view the sun during an annular solar eclipse without proper attention to eyesight safety.

With proper equipment, which is not expensive, people can experience the wonder of the May 20, 2012 annular solar eclipse, in complete safety. A pair of solar eclipse goggles can be purchased for just a few dollars. Bulk packs are available at cost savings. These devices have filters that block out nearly all of the sunlight. The resulting view is completely safe. That said, before use, a pair of solar eclipse goggles should be inspected to ensure that no holes perforate the protective lenses. They should be treated carefully as well. After the annular solar eclipse, the goggles should be carefully stored in a safe place.

As mentioned as well, there may be opportunities to safely view the annular solar eclipse with a digital camera. This is safe but may not provide great photo opportunities. The reason is because there will be much less light than normal. The camera will have to compensate by holding the exposure longer. This can easily result in a blurry image, even if you have a digital stabilized camera. If you are thinking of photographing the peak of the annular phase, you may want to have your digital camera mounted on a tripod. Be sure to practice with your camera beforehand as well. Remember that it will be quite dark during the eclipse. You want to be able to handle your gear well. After all, if you miss the shot, you might have to wait a long time for the next annular solar eclipse to visit you.

The annular solar eclipse visible from the western United States this May 20, 2012 provides a great opportunity for many people to experience a rare astronomical event. Those in the path, living in Reno or Albuquerque, are lucky to get the full view right in their own towns. Those in Las Vegas, Dallas or Amarillo, will want to travel a short distance to experience the event. For those away from the narrow eclipse path, they will see a partially eclipsed sun. This may present some photo opportunities but will pale in comparison to the annular solar eclipse sensation that visits Eureka, Carson City, Reno and other such cities in the eclipse zone.