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Saturday spawns ‘Ring of Fire’ solar eclipse

Posted at 12:38 PM, May 16, 2012
and last updated 2012-05-16 12:38:51-04

(WTKR) Skywatchers should circle Sunday, May 20th on the calendar. That’s when a solar eclipse will block out most of the sun. At its peak, the eclipse will block about 94 percent of the sun’s light.

The event is known as an annular Solar Eclipse, from the Latin “annulus,” meaning “little ring”. The “Ring of Fire” should be visible for much of Asia, the Pacific region and some of western North America, along the Eclipse path. Other parts of the United States and Canada will still see a partial solar eclipse. The East Coast will miss the event since the sun will have set before it begins. The eclipse will occur in the late afternoon or early evening of May 20 throughout North America, and May 21 for observers in Asia.

Solar eclipses occur when the moon comes between Earth and the sun, casting a shadow on Earth. When the moon lines up perfectly with the sun and blots out all of its light, the result is a total eclipse.  Annular eclipses are similar to total eclipses in that the moon lines up with the sun dead-on. But in this case, the moon is close to apogee (the farthest point from Earth in its orbit) so it’s a bit too small in the sky to cover the solar disk completely. As a result, a ring of bright sunlight will still blaze around the moon’s circumference.

All types of solar eclipses are potentially dangerous. Viewers must take special steps to observe them properly, or serious and permanent eye damage could result.

Photo: “On Jan. 4, 2011, the moon passed in front of the sun in a partial solar eclipse – as seen from parts of Earth. Here, the joint Japanese-American Hinode satellite captured the same breathtaking event from space. The unique view created what’s called an annular solar eclipse.” CREDIT: Hinode/XRT/