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Professor Astronomy

Sunday's "Ring of Fire" Solar Eclipse

18 May 2012, 14:33 UTC
Sunday's "Ring of Fire" Solar Eclipse
(200 words excerpt, click title or image to see full post)

This Sunday, May 20 (in the U.S.; Monday morning on the 21st for Asia) there will be a spectacular eclipse of the sun. Residents of the western U.S. get a great show; those on the Eastern seaboard get to see nothing. Details on how to see the eclipse can be found here from Sky & Telescope and on many other websites. Rather than reproduce others' details on how/where/when to look, I thought I'd put a personal spin on the story and mention a few things I haven't seen on many other websites.

Solar eclipses are caused when the moon comes between the Sun and the Earth; basically we see the moon's shadow. The moon's orbit is tilted with respect to the Earth, so most months the moon passes well north or south of the sun in the sky, but every 6 months it has a chance of passing over part or all of the sun.

The moon and the sun are almost exactly the same size, as seen from the Earth. But the moon's orbit is not a circle, it is elliptical (oval), so sometimes it is a little closer to the Earth and sometimes a little further away. Remember ...

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