On May 20, our moon will pass between the Earth and the sun, creating a brilliant annular solar eclipse for some viewers and an equally amazing partial solar eclipse for many others. An annular solar eclipse happens when the moon is at a certain distance from the Earth, so that it appears relatively smaller than the sun; in a total eclipse, the moon appears to be the same size as the sun. This all happens because the moon’s orbit around the Earth isn’t a perfect circle but rather is an ellipse, putting it sometimes a bit further from the Earth than others.
An annular eclipse gets its name due to the ring, or annulus, that forms around the moon when the eclipse reaches maximum. Due to the size of the moon compared to the size of the sun (and the fact that the moon can’t block the sunlight for everyone on Earth at once), not everyone will be able to see this annular eclipse. Only a relatively small number of people will be in just the right spot to see the annulus. But if you’re outside of the ideal viewing area, by no means are you out of luck!
When the eclipse will take place
The eclipse will begin on the west coast of the United States at 6:30 p.m. PDT on May 20. It travels from west to east, so the times that it starts, reaches maximum, and ends will be different in your area. The best tool for figuring out exactly when the eclipse will be in your neck of the woods is on NASA’s eclipse page, where you’ll find an interactive Google Map showing the exact times for any place you click on.
Remember that even if you’re outside of the main viewing area (marked by blue lines on NASA’s Google Map), you can still see a partial eclipse, so click near your city’s location to find out when! NASA’s site gives everything in UTC time, so you’ll need to convert it to your local time. Head over to WorldTimeServer.com to make a quick conversion.
How to view the eclipse safely
Always be sure that you never look at the sun directly, even during an annular solar eclipse. You’ll want to use special eyewear or view the eclipse through a makeshift pinhole projector. Check out our guide on how to safely view the May 2012 annular solar eclipse for more information.