Now you see it, now you don't

The first solar eclipse to be visible from the U.S. since May 10, 1994, takes place May 20.

The upcoming eclipse will be annular as opposed to a total eclipse. When an annular eclipse occurs, the moon is farther from Earth so it doesn't cover the sun's whole disc. Viewers see a ring of sunlight (called an annulus) around the black circle of the moon as it passes in front of the sun.

Before local readers of this column get too excited, unless you're planning a vacation to the American southwest - or southeastern China or southern Japan - then you won't see the total eclipse. In fact, observers in the eastern U.S. will only see a small bite taken out of the sun before it sets, if that.

On May 19, the moon reaches the farthest point in its monthly orbit around Earth, a stage called apogee. It passes in front of the sun the next day, when it's still too far away to cover the sun completely from our view.

While observers on only a small band of land about 185 miles wide stretching from southeastern China across the Pacific Ocean and through the middle of Texas will witness the total eclipse, people in a much broader area will experience a partial eclipse. Of course, as with any sky event, anyone planning to go out of their way to view this may have to contend with cloudy skies. Luckily, the American southwest is known for its excellent weather and frequent clear skies. Fingers crossed.

Now for the public service announcement that should run with any news relating to observing a solar event: Never view an eclipse without proper eye protection, such as an approved solar filter or #14 welder's glass. Even though most of the sun is covered when the eclipse reaches annularity, the remaining visible ring of light is bright enough to damage your retinas.

The next decade brings two more solar eclipses: a total eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, and another annular one on Oct. 14, 2023. Hopefully one or both of these will reveal more of a show to viewers in Connecticut.

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May 12 - Last quarter moon.

May 20 - New moon.

May 22 - The moon passes 5 degrees south of Venus around 5 p.m.

May 28 - First quarter moon.

May 29 - The moon passes 7 degrees south of Mars.


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