An annular solar eclipse takes place this weekend, and will be visible from parts of the United States. Before you get too excited, Arkansas will not be the ideal place to the view the eclipse as the sun will go down prior to the eclipse reaching its maximum. The eclipse of May 20th 2012 is called an Annular eclipse because the size of the moon will appear relatively smaller compared to the sun. Below is an example of what an annular eclipse looks like at its maximum.
Note the ring of light around the edges. This is different from a Total solar eclipse in which the moon completely covers the sun. This also should not be confused with a Partial eclipse, in which the moon is not directly in front of the sun. The path of the annular eclipse begins in West Texas and stretches across the Pacific Ocean into Japan and China. The red line on the image below indicates the Center of the path of the annular eclipse and the blue lines show the boundaries. A partial eclipse will be visible far outside these boundaries
The green marker indicates the maximum of the annular eclipse, which in this case means the moon will cover about 97% of the visible sun. Within The United States, parts of the Southwest and West Coast will experience the best viewing. People in places as close as Lubbock, Texas will get a great viewing of the eclipse.
Farther East, the sun goes down before eclipse gets close to the maximum. It will be possible to see a partial eclipse even from Central Arkansas, but the sun will already be very close to the horizon when it starts.
As for Little Rock, a partial eclipse begins at 7:30 PM Sunday, with the sun only about 6 degrees above the horizon. This means the sun will already appear down for most of us unless you are looking at the sunset from a high vantage point with no obstructions such as a hill top. The eclipse reaches its maximum in Central Arkansas at around 8:30 PM, and with 86% of the sun covered, it would look quite impressive IF it was during the day! The sun sets below the horizon at 8:09 PM Sunday in Little Rock, well before the maximum. Even though conditions are far from perfect, enough of the sun will be covered to make for quite an interesting looking sunset if you have the right view. Keep in mind that even though the sun will be very low in the sky, you should not stare directly at it.
The next partial eclipse visible from Central Arkansas will be October 2014, but if you want to see a total eclipse you will be waiting until April 2024
Images Courtesy of NASA
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