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Rare 'ring of fire' solar eclipse comes to California this weekend

May 15, 2012 |  2:07 pm

This post has been changed. Please see note below.

A rare "ring" eclipse is coming to California this weekend — the first of its kind to enter the continental United States since 1994. 

The best view of the ring eclipse — which scientists call an "annular" eclipse in which the moon will completely block out the sun except for an annulus, or ring of fire, on the moon's edge — will be in the northern edge of California, coursing near Eureka, Redding, the northern suburbs of Sacramento SE2012May20A
and Lake Tahoe. 

The rest of California will still get a prime view of a partial eclipse on Sunday evening, with the moon blocking out 86% of the sun's diameter in Los Angeles, according to the Griffith Observatory. 

In Los Angeles, the moon will begin to obscure the sun at 5:24 p.m. Sunday, reach its maximum coverage at 6:38 p.m., and exit the sun's path at 7:42 p.m., just 10 minutes before sunset, the Griffith Observatory said. 

According to NASA, the annular eclipse will begin at sunrise local time in southern China; pass over Hong Kong; Taipei, Taiwan; and Tokyo before hitting its greatest extent in the Pacific Ocean near Alaska's Aleutian Islands. After entering California, the moon's shadow will block almost all sunlight from Reno, Nev.; the Grand Canyon in Arizona; Albuquerque, N.M.; and Lubbock, Texas. 

The zone where a partial eclipse is viewable is much wider, stretching over most of eastern China, Korea, the Philippines, Siberia, Hawaii, Canada and Mexico. NASA has posted calculations of solar eclipse times in foreign countries and the United States.

NASA has also set up a nifty interactive Google map showing times of the eclipse -- click on the map and it'll show when the eclipse will begin and end at any given point in the world. The times are set to "Coordinated Universal Time," which is seven hours ahead of California. 

Annular eclipses are different from total eclipses, where no "ring of fire" is visible.

A word of caution: don't look at the sun directly during the eclipse! Experts say it's possible to cause permanent damage to eyesight. Here's one way to make a simple pinhole projector to view the eclipse, and NASA also recommends using binoculars to project the eclipse on a white card. 

The Griffith Observatory will hold a special eclipse viewing event, and plans to sell affordable eclipse-viewing glasses and other devices that will project the eclipse on the ground. Regular sunglasses will not protect the eyes, said observatory spokeswoman Susan Szotyori. 

Telescopes equipped with special filters will also be set up to help the public view the eclipse.

The eclipse should be visible unless fog rolls in early Sunday night.

[For the record, 2:55 p.m.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the eclipse would happen Saturday night.]


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Graphic: An animation of where annular and partial eclipses will be visible. The time and date are based on Universal Time, which is seven hours ahead of Pacific Daylight Time.