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Much of the U.S. Treated to An Eclipse This Evening

May 18, 2012

By WeatherBug Meteorologist, John Bateman

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Just a little more than one week before the unofficial start of summer, and parts of the U.S. will see the Sun dimmed by a rather rare "annular" solar eclipse. Before we get to the details of where and when, let`s do a crash course on solar eclipses.

There are three types of solar eclipses: partial, total, and annular. As the name implies, a partial solar eclipse is when the Moon only blocks out a portion of the Sun`s surface. It will appear to the viewer that the sun has a "bite" taken out of it. A much rarer total solar eclipse occurs when the Moon completely covers the surface of the Sun, turning day into night and allowing only the solar corona and prominences to be seen.

In between these two is the annular solar eclipse. This happens when the Moon completely moves over the Sun`s surface but doesn`t block out the sunshine entirely. This happens because even though the Sun and Moon appear almost the same size in the sky, there are slight fluctuations. This is due to the eccentric orbits of the Moon around the Earth, and the Earth around the Sun. During an annular eclipse the Moon appears slightly smaller than the Sun so it allows a ring of sunshine to still shine through, producing a "ring of fire", or donut-shaped sun.

Ok, enough of the astronomy lecture... now for the viewing details. The eclipse will be tonight, unless you`re on the U.S. East Coast, where you will be out of luck - the Sun will set before the eclipse occurs. Generally if you`re west of a line from Rochester, N.Y., through Charleston, W.Va., and south to Panama City, Fla., you will be able to see at least some of the eclipse.

Even better, the path of maximum totality (up to 94 percent of the Sun covered!) will hit the continental U.S. for the first time since 1994, and will stretch from West Texas northwestward through Northern California. Some of the cities in this path include Lubbock, Texas, Albuquerque, N.M., St. George, Utah, Reno, Nev., Eureka, Calif., and Medford, Ore.

The time of the eclipse will vary depending on where you live. Fortunately NASA has graciously produced this table to help you find the time in your neighborhood. The times, by the way, are given in Universal Time, also called Greenwich Mean Time. This means you will have to subtract 4 hours from the time if you live in the Eastern Daylight Time Zone (EDT); subtract 5 hours if you live in the CDT; subtract 6 hours for MDT; subtract 7 for PDT, and so on.

Now a word of caution - please be careful while viewing the eclipse! Looking directly at the Sun, even for a moment, can cause permanent eye damage and blindness. The safest way to view it will be through a pin-hole projector or through an eclipse filter. You can find eclipse filters and viewing glasses on-line and in some specialty stores, but make sure you do your research and find a reputable and reliable supplier. Do not use sunglasses, smoked glass, or x-ray film to view the eclipse.

And lastly, hold on to those viewers... because Venus` transit across the Sun is coming up in June. Happy sky watching!

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