“They call it a great wonder
That the Sun would not
though the sky was cloudless
Shine warm upon the men.” –Sighvald, Icelandic poet
A couple of times a year, during the New Moon, the Sun, Moon, and Earth all line up in the same plane. As seen from Earth, the Sun’s disc appears blocked, either in whole or in part, by the Moon. As The Beta Band would have told you, this creates an
Back in 1994, I was living in New York; this was the last time an annular eclipse happened anyplace close to where I was living. From where I was, about 87% of the Sun’s disk was blocked by the Moon, and there were two very interesting (and obvious) things that happened:
- The Sun remained incredibly, blindingly bright to look at, but gave off virtually no warmth, and
- shadows looked, well, really weird.
I didn’t have the fun kitchen skimmer that Philippe Haake had, above, but I discovered that, with my back towards the Sun, if I held my fingers, crossed together, over my head, the shadows produced by the tiny spaces in between my fingers would produce miniature eclipses Suns.
But if I had been in a more fortuitous location, where there actually was a full annular eclipse, those tiny little apertures would have produced images of the ringed annulus, such as the rings Steve G.S. saw shining through the tree leaves in 2005.
Well, I live on the West Coast of the United States now, and I’m finally getting another chance to see an annular eclipse! This May 21st/May 20th, depending on which side of the international date line you’re on, is our planet’s next eclipse. Those of you in Hong Kong, Taipei, Tokyo and other areas will get to see the annular eclipse shortly after sunrise on the 21st, but those of you in the west/southwest United States are in for an extra special treat.
In the waning hours of the day on May 20th, as Sun descends in the west, the Moon will pass in front of it, creating the first annular eclipse in the United States since 1994!
This time, I’m going to be prepared.
First off, I’m going to make sure I have a pinhole camera with me. A pinhole camera is as simple as having a piece of cardboard with a pinhole poked in it and a white screen behind it. As the sunlight passes through the pinhole, the (inverted) image of the Sun’s disk gets displayed on the screen in the back.
If the Sun’s disk is partially blocked, then what shows up on the display screen is the eclipsed Sun, completely safe for viewing. There are a number of quality, ultra-low-tech options readily available for your display screen.
Because the eclipse is happening late in the day — in the Pacific Time Zone, it starts at about 5:10 PM and ends at around 7:30 PM — I’ll want to make sure I have a clear view to the west, where the Sun will be descending. I am taking no chances, and will be staking out a spot along the coast. With over 200 miles of prime viewing coastline available, I’m even hoping for a little solitude while it happens.
The ocean is sure to provide me with very little in the way of obstacles that will obscure the Sun’s view. The only possible interference will come from the astronomer’s nemesis: clouds.
I also plan on photographing the Sun, directly, during the eclipse! Although I’m not a skilled photographer by any stretch, anything from a pair of welder’s goggles to the interior of a 3.5″ floppy disk, placed over the lens of your camera, will allow you to successfully photograph the Sun during an eclipse!
I won’t, however, be looking at the Sun through the 3.5″ floppy disk; welder’s goggles are okay (as are some other types of protective eyewear), but be careful! You won’t feel the damage the Sun can do to your eyes until it’s too late; make sure if you’re going to look at the Sun directly that you get the proper equipment to protect your eyes.
I’m hoping to get some images as good as the ones taken by Steve G.S. with his solar filter in 2005. (Yeah, right!)
The United States will get a shot at a total solar eclipse — perhaps the only sight more spectacular than an annular eclipse — on August 21, 2017. But for those of you with a chance to go out and view this one, including those of you just crazy enough to be eclipse chasers (which may include me, now), start planning for it now.
You won’t get another chance at an annular eclipse in the USA until 2023, so don’t miss it!