On May 20th 2012, a full annular solar eclipse will be visible from the mainland United States. The last time this occurred was during the 1990s; you shouldn’t miss out on this relatively rare astrological event. The full solar eclipse can be seen in a diagonal swath from California to New Mexico, partial eclipses will be view-able on either side of this band until you hit west Texas. Annular, which means “ring”, solar eclipses are when the moon passes directly in front of the sun causing the sun to appear as a ring around the moon. A full annular eclipse resemble a bulls eye. Where will be some of the best places in the United State to view the annular eclipse? Why, the National Parks of course!
Jonathon Jarvis, the current director of the National Park Service, states that the full annular eclipse can be viewed in 33 different national monuments and 6 national parks. This very useful hand-out created by the NPS includes a map listing all of the national parks and national monuments where the eclipse can be seen as well as where in the United States the full and partial eclipse will be visible. Not only will the parks be great, quiet, locations to enjoy the celestial beauty, many national monuments and parks are preparing to host events, educational programs, and hands-on activities surrounding the eclipse. A list of the events can be found here. May 20th is a Sunday this year, so those of us west of the Mississippi should take a long weekend to visit a local national monument or national park and view the first, full annular eclipse visible in the United States for the past 18 years.
Remember: Looking directly at the sun can cause serious eye damage. Even though this is a solar eclipse, the moon will only be blocking a portion of the sun. Viewing the annular solar eclipse directly can cause eye damage. The NPS provides a guide on the safest ways to view a solar eclipse. I am planning on spending May 20th in Yellowstone National Park where I’ll be able to view a partial solar eclipse; better bring supplies to make a pinhole camera!