May’s Solar Eclipse

There will be a solar eclipse visible (weather permitting) to observers in East Asia, the North Pacific and most of North America on May 20 (May 21 for those of you in the eastern hemisphere).  This will be an “annular eclipse” of the Sun where the Moon almost covers the entire disk of the sun, leaving a ring of sunlight surrounding the Moon.

Actually, the view you see in the image below will be visible only to people within about a 150 mile (240 km) diameter band that stretches thousands of miles from southern China to northern Texas.  Most people in East Asia, the North Pacific and North America will see a partial eclipse of the Sun — where the Moon takes a ‘bite’ out of the solar disk.  Still, it will be quite a show!

Note that the eclipse will not be visible at all from the East Coast of the United States.

Click here to see an animated map showing the motion of the solar eclipse over the surface of Earth on May 20.  The red dot in the animation represents the locations on Earth where the complete annular eclipse (again, as shown below) will be visible. The shadowed area in the animated map represents the large area of Earth where the partial eclipse of the sun will be visible.

Annular Eclipse
An "annular eclipse" of the Sun, when the Moon covers most of the Sun's disk. Even during an annular eclipse it is dangerous to look at the Sun directly. Photo Credit: Solar Optical Observing Network (SOON) telescope, U.S. Air Force

Of course, one should never look directly at the sun — even during an eclipse the sun’s light can cause permanent damage to your eyes. Check out this online guide to safely viewing an eclipse.

Sky & Telescope magazine has an excellent online guide to this eclipse that will provide more details.  Of course, your local news media will undoubtedly provide viewing information for your locale.

The Planets in the Night Sky

This is a good month for viewing the planets Venus, Mars and Saturn.  Venus is the ‘evening star’ — the bright point of light in the western sky during the early evening hours.  The red planet Mars is in the Name A Star Live constellation Leo, near Leo’s star “Regulus,” and Saturn is in the Name A Star Live constellation Virgo, near Virgo’s star “Spica.”

Mars on May 1, 2012
The Moon, the planet Mars and the constellation Leo on May 1, 2012.

Finding your star in the night sky

Stars are located within constellations, which are just areas of the night sky. Scorpius, Aries and Taurus are examples of constellations. Your Name A Star Live Star Certificate displays the name of your constellation. You can use our online World Constellation Guide to determine if you can see your constellation during the evening hours (between sunset and midnight). Of course, you’ll need a telescope to see your star.  But you can see your constellation without the use of a telescope. You can also find your constellation by using our Virtual Planetarium™ astronomy software. A planisphere is another useful device.