A rare annular eclipse

The morning of May 21 will give many people a opportunity to start becoming interested in the universe and science. An annular eclipse of the sun can be observed in large areas of Japan along the Pacific around 7:30 a.m. that day.

If weather conditions are good, as many as 83 million people will be able to witness the phenomenon. And in other areas, a partial eclipse will be visible.

An eclipse of the sun occurs when the moon hides the sun as it passes between it and the earth. During an annular eclipse, the sun takes on the appearance of a ring or donut as the moon, Earth and sun become aligned and the moon hides the sun’s center.

The annular eclipse will be observable along a band stretching from southern China to Japan and North America, covering about 0.7 percent of the earth’s surface. In Japan, the eclipse will begin around 6 a.m. and the annular eclipse can be seen around 7:30 a.m. in areas stretching from Kyushu, Shikoku and Kinki to Chubu and Kanto, including large cities such as Osaka, Nagoya and Tokyo.

Monday will mark the first time in 932 years that an annular eclipse of the sun will be visible over such a wide area. In 1987, an annular eclipse was visible only in Okinawa. Miss this coming Monday’s annular eclipse and you won’t get a chance to see another one in Japan until 2030 in Hokkaido.

The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan’s website offers information in Japanese and English on the coming solar event, including a map showing the zones where it can be observed and the exact times when it can be seen at various points throughout Japan. Those interested should visit the following website:

naojcamp.mtk.nao.ac.jp/phenomena/20120521/

To allow their students the opportunity to observe the annular eclipse, many schools are moving up class times so that students and teachers can watch the phenomenon together. Other schools are even closing for the day.

Those who plan to observe the annular eclipse should take extreme care in protecting their eyes. Sunglasses and exposed negative film do not provide sufficient filtration of the sun’s powerful light, which can burn retinas, causing permanent damage. Instead, specially designed shields or glasses must be used, and these should be checked beforehand to ensure they are free of defects. If a fluorescent light is visible through them or if cracks are found when they are held up against LED lighting, they should not be used.

Now let us all cross our fingers and hope that the weather on May 21 will be fine.