Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Annular Solar Eclipse May 2012

It is an absolutely amazing mathematical match up–our sun and moon. The size of the moon and its distance from the Earth make it possible for the phenomena know as solar eclipses.

Sunday, May 20, 2012, as the moon revolved with us, it moved between the Earth and the sun. Because the moon was further from the Earth (smaller in our sky), a complete ring of the sun peaked out from behind the moon. This is an annular solar eclipse. The amount of sun blocked caused the daylight to decrease, but you still couldn't look at the sun directly without hurting your eyes. Amazingly, it actually seemed to get brighter during the maximum of the annular eclipse and the shadows did the opposite of a total eclipse. Shadows became elongated but diffused almost doubled. The shadow from my hand looked like a monster's claw.

The photo here was taken by my husband Michael Lawshe, using a solar filter. We traveled to Whiskeytown Lake in northern California, so that we would be directly in the moon's shadow and experience this Earthly wonder.

Later this year, in November, the moon will slide between the Earth and the sun again. But this time the moon will be closer to Earth and block out more of the sun's disk. The alignment will be so perfect that entire sun will be blocked out.  But the size and distance of the moon will be so perfect, that flares reaching out from the sun's surface will be visible, as will the sun's corona. This is a total solar eclipse. During a total solar eclipse day becomes evening, stars can become visible.  The shadows become crisp to the point of being surreal. Eclipse Turkey 2006, Eclipse Mongolia 2010.

This was our first annular eclipse and well worth traveling to see. If the size of our moon or sun were just slightly different or their distances from the Earth altered, these astronomical events would be very different or nonexistent. An eclipse is a big universe moment; it makes you realize that humans are small and insignificant.

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