Like many things, astronomical events rarely live up to the advance hype excited enthusiasts promise, but this one should. Late in the afternoon of Sunday, May 20, there will be an annular eclipse of the Sun – and Albuquerque is dead-center along the path of maximum coverage. And the view should be truly awesome as the Sun sets as a burning ring of fire.
Solar eclipses are, of course, caused by the Moon passing in front of the Sun. But the Moon’s distance varies, and so those eclipses where the entire Moon is between us and the Sun vary also. Since the Moon was at its closest to Earth recently with the “supermoon” when it was last Full (and therefore opposite the Sun), now on the other side of its orbit it will be at its farthest point from us when it passes in front of the Sun, and will appear smaller. While during a total solar eclipse, the Moon exactly covers the entire solar disk, in an annular eclipse like this, a thin brightly-glowing strip around the edges will still be visible.
This means that when the Moon passes before the Sun that afternoon, it will not cover it completely but leave a red burning circle in the sky. Though the sky should not blacken and the stars come out as the flaming atmosphere of our parent star suddenly becomes visible, the view from right here should be pretty incredible anyway.
Since Albuquerque is right in the middle of the path (which actually passes over the Sunport), the fiery ring should appear completely round and even at its maximum. The Moon’s whole disk will be completely in front of the Sun for almost four and a half minutes, from 7:33-7:38 PM.
The show starts at 6:28 PM, but will be not be completely over with by the time the Sun sets at 8:20 PM. Since the entire event takes place low in the western sky, the Albuquerque Astronomical Society advises that you need to be at least high enough to see Mt. Taylor off to the west for a good view. NOTE: This means the eclipse will not be visible down in the Valley, behind the Sandias, or on the near West Side.
Also note that since staring at the Sun is not good for the eyeballs, special dark glasses, filters, or viewing arrangements are highly recommended. The City of Albuquerque is holding a viewing party at the Albuquerque Balloon Museum with giant screens and viewing glasses. You can also pick up glasses elsewhere.
And stay tuned! There will be another cool astronomical event just two weeks later. On Tuesday, June 5, Venus will pass in front of the Sun. Although this rare “transit of Venus” won’t be visible with the naked eye, it should be possible to observethis event, which will not occur again for over a century, via telescope from right here in town.
For complete information on these upcoming events, including how to watch safely, where to get safety glasses, and viewing and educational opportunities they themselves are offering, check out the Albuquerque Astronomical Society‘s website.
Keep looking up!