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SPACE: Parts of U.S. will see a solar eclipse Sunday

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"The ring of fire:" Astrophotographer Dennis L. Mammana photographed this annular eclipse behind palm trees in January 1994. Copyright D. L. Mammana.

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Even though we’ll miss the show in Virginia, share this story with your friends and family to our west! You can just barely make out the Commonwealth on the far right of this visibility map, as we are just too far to the East to see the eclipse (the Sun sets to our west before the annular solar eclipse begins).

Here’s a closer view of those in the U.S. who will see the eclipse:

IMAGE: Science@NASA. The path of annularity cuts across the continental United States at sunset on May 20, 2012.

But what exactly is an “annular” (yes, that’s annular, not annual) solar eclipse? Dr. Tony Phillips with NASA explains, “An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon passes directly in front of the sun, but the lunar disk is not quite wide enough to cover the entire star.  At maximum, the Moon forms a “black hole” in the center of the sun.”

Here’s a photo of what that looks like:

“The ring of fire:” Astrophotographer Dennis L. Mammana photographed this annular eclipse behind palm trees in January 1994. Copyright D. L. Mammana.

WARNING: You should never look directly at the Sun, even during an eclipse! There are other ways to see this (if not indirectly through a camera lens). Dr. Phillips says, “During an annular eclipse, sunbeams turn into little rings of light.” He advises, “The best place to see this is on the sun-dappled ground beneath a leafy tree. You can also make a handy solar projector by criss-crossing your fingers waffle-style. Rays of light beaming through the gaps will have the same shape as the eclipsed sun.”
BONUS: Click here to learn how to make a pinhole camera.

Dr. Phillips says, “In the United States, the afternoon sun will become a luminous ring in places such as Medford, Oregon; Chico, California; Reno, Nevada; St. George, Utah; Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Lubbock, Texas. Outside of this relatively narrow zone, the eclipse will be partial. Observers almost everywhere west of the Mississippi will see a crescent-shaped sun as the Moon passes by off-center.”

Watch this Science@NASA video about the solar eclipse:

Quick note: this is not a total eclipse of the Sun, where the entire disc of the Sun is completely covered by the Moon. That's the kind where day turns into an eerie "twilight" of sorts as the Sun's corona glows around the edges of the Moon's visual block. The next time we'll have a total solar eclipse in the U.S. is August 21, 2017, and Virginians will definitely want to save the date for that event!

Meteorologist Carrie Rose
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