Website eclipse meet-up on May 20

May 9, 2012 • 7:51 am

Ben Goren, who doesn’t believe in Jesus, sent me this email about an annular eclipse next Sunday, May 20, and the possibility that some readers in the area could meet up.  I won’t be able to attend (I need to work and recover from my latest travels), but perhaps you can post below if you’re interested, and I’ll furnish you with Ben’s email.  An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun, blotting out the Sun except for a ring of fire around the Moon’s edge.

You might be aware that there’s going to be an annular eclipse a week from this Sunday, on the 20th. The partial phase of the eclipse will be visible from most of the western half of the country, but the path of annularity will pass over Mt. Shasta, through Nevada, into the Four Corners region, and end (for the most part) in Albuquerque.

The Grand Canyon is not far from the centerline, and will be in the region of annularity. The sun and moon will be low in the horizon near sunset, and still in partial eclipse at sunset. I haven’t checked, but I’m pretty sure this is the only time in the entire history of the hominin family, past or future, that one will be able to see a ring of fire hovering over the Canyon.

I’ll be there to photograph the event. When I mentioned that to David Richards, he decided that this is something worth seeing for himself, so he’ll be joining me. We then realized that there’re a bunch of other WEIT regulars and readers in the Southwest, and figured the right thing to do is to invite them all.

Would you be so kind as to post something to that effect? Preferably sooner rather than later so people can make plans.

The National Park Service will be be hosting an event at the Grand Canyon Village. The view from there should be spectacular, and there will be amateur astronomers there with telescopes and viewing stations and all the rest. Details are here.

I’m pretty sure there’re other spots even better for photographing the eclipse; Dave and I will be scouting those out on Friday and Saturday. We likely won’t be at the Village for the NPS viewing, but we’ll probably make the post-eclipse party the NPS is hosting. We’d also be up for meeting up with WEIT folks in Flagstaff on Friday or Saturday.

Wikipedia has a special article on this eclipse, with an animation of what it will look like from Albequerque—spectacular! There’s also an animation of the path of the shadow. I hope that the weather is good.

For those who go, I expect that the best pictures will be sent to me for posting here.

Here are the kinds of photos that you can get, though I think palms are a bit thin on the ground at the Canyon.  This is from Astronomy Picture of the Day, and shows an annular eclipse of Jan. 25, 2009 photographed behind trees:

41 thoughts on “Website eclipse meet-up on May 20

      1. Thanks!

        And, a last rapid-fire response — the extended forecast has been holding steady of the 20th being smack dab in the middle of about a week’s worth of clear, sunny, and warm. While anything can always happen with the weather, this looks to be as set as things get for perfect viewing conditions.


  1. Does anyone know if there’s any websites that show what regions of the US will be able to view the eclipse? And maybe even specific timing…

    I’m in Wisconsin and wondering if it will be visible from here.
    I’ll bring the cheese..

    1. NASA has an interactive clickable Google map version linked from the Wikipedia page:

      In Wisconsin, it looks like the eclipse will be starting just a few minutes before sundown…you’re right at the border of where any eclipse is realistically visible at all, though there will be just a hint of a tiny nick of an eclipse theoretically visible right as the sun hits the horizon all the way to the Carolina border.


  2. You had me at “Ben,” but Grand Canyon + ring of fire + WEIT friends in Flagstaff? I will move mountains to be there.

  3. Ben doesn’t believe in Jesus? And I thought we were going to church on Sunday morning…

    I am not sure that just the eclipse is worth the airfare if it wasn’t already on your radar, but I couldn’t pass up traipsing around northern Arizona for 4-5 days with Ben, and the chance to meet the infamous Baihu. Not to mention putting some faces to all these names I’ve been seeing for so long. Those of you who live in AZ have no excuses.

  4. This is counterintuitive: Supermoon (full moon unusually close and large) followed a half-cycle later by annular eclipse (new moon with smaller-than-usual apparent size, else it would be total).

    Of course I could find a long and detailed explanation on an astronomy site, but can someone give us an authoritative short version here?

    My inference is that the moon’s orbit is highly eccentric at the moment. How much does it vary and on what timescales, and is the variation generated within the earth-moon system or involve other planets, like the Milankovic cycles? Does the average earth-moon distance (and orbital period) vary cyclically too, as well as the eccentricity?

    1. I was tripped up by this one, as well, but you’ve figured out the answer.

      The moon’s orbit is eccentric, though I don’t think it’s eccentric enough to warrant the “highly” modifier. You can see the degree of eccentricity in the photo above of the annular sun.

      That means, of course, not that the orbit expands and contracts in a perfect circle, but rather that it’s an ellipse with near and far points at the opposite ends of the orbit. And, since the full moon is when the moon is opposite the sun (so it’s fully illuminated) and the new moon is when the moon is between the sun and the Earth (so there’s no sunlight shining on it), and since eclipses happen at the depth of the new moon (when the moon passes directly between the sun and the earth)…well, add that all up, and if the moon is at its closest when full at a particular time, it’ll be at its farthest when new / eclipsed.

      The other bodies in the system of course influence the moon’s orbit, but only by amounts well within the margin of error for mere mortals.

      I’ll let an astronomer step in from here…much more than that and we’re rapidly getting far outside of my pay grade.


    1. Fantastic!

      Kelly’s already emailed me, but I’m thinking we might want (with Jerry’s permission, of course) to use this here page as something of a clearinghouse….


      1. That begs the question of how you’ll recognise each other? The traditional red carnation and a rolled-up copy of The Times?
        “Ceiling Cat” tee-shirts?
        Carry drums to scare away Fafnir from eating the Sun?

          1. Jesus fish or Darwin Fish?
            I’ve hardly had any visits from Moritnesses or Jehovons since I put a Darwin Fish on my door.

        1. The “plan” is for at least some of us to meet in Flagstaff for food/drinks on either Friday or Saturday night, so we should all recognize each other by Sunday. Ben is fielding and coordinating the inquiries, so shoot him an e-mail. If anyone wants to reach me for some reason, my email is available by clicking Merlyn’s picture.

          1. Plus, there’s this miraculous new invention called a “cell phone”. I don’t think Canyon Village is so far off the beaten path that they won’t work there.

          2. If I wasn’t so busy shooting myself in the foot, here, I would have remembered that the NPS get together was the alternative to coordinating all the drinks/dinner stuff. We will be keeping an odd schedule, out until late and up very early, and were worried on how to fit that in. Don’t tell Ben that I messed up.

          3. No mess-up. We can do the NPS thing at the Canyon, we can do something Friday or Saturday in Flagstaff, we can do one or more of the above. And we don’t all have to be at all of them, though I think we’ll all at least want to know about all of them.

            I’m thinking Saturday would be the best day for a Flagstaff meet-up; people might still be traveling or tired on Friday.


          4. My general plan was to head up with the family on Saturday and stay in Flagstaff, then do the Canyon thing on Sunday. (4 kids + 5hr drive / enjoying anything = highly improbable). If there are WEIT related meetups on either of those days I’ll try to work towards them, though specifics would be welcome ahead of time so I can figure out how to entertain the family whilst I slip off to enjoy the festivities.

          5. Justin-

            Shoot Ben or me an e-mail (click on my Gravatar). We’ll keep you in the loop. It’s starting to look like a small group. I guess we’ll go for quality, not quantity.

            We’ll probably have to eat dinner sometime on Saturday, though it might be late. Or will it just seem that way to me because my brain is on CDT?

    1. I’ll add to that that Window Rock (the hole in the rock where the Navaho Nation tribal headquarters is located) is right on the eclipse centerline, but the view through the hole is perpendicular to the view of the eclipse. Monument Valley, Shiprock, and the Painted Desert are all about as far north of the centerline as the Canyon is south of it and will all get an annular eclipse. Canyon de Chelly (one of the NPS sites) is right on the centerline.

      If you’re looking for one of those other sites, keep in mind that the sun will be low on the horizon (about 10°) and slightly north of due West. You’ll need a clear view of the horizon to see the eclipse. The Canyon is a (very big) ravine cut into a flat plateau, which is just about as good as it gets, though I can imagine that somebody who knows the Painted Desert and Monument Valley very will will know just what the right spot to position a camera there is. Much of that land is restricted to tribal citizens and those with permits, though….



  5. I would love to be able to come but there’s no chance, I will be in the Canadian Rockies at Banff Springs that day. I am usually even further away from Arizona than that as you may know, so I was never likely to be able to come anyway.

    Hope you all have a great time and I will look forward to some really fabulous photos.

  6. Thank you so much Dr. Coyne for bringing attention to this important event. I am trying to get out of working that Sunday so I can drive to the high plains in the four corners area of Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Arizona. I suspect this location will be rather active that evening.

    It really is hard to believe but there has not been a total solar eclipse in the continental United States since February 26, 1979.

    As a 12 year old kid growing up in northern Minnesota, I remember a very cold but very clear Monday morning that day. Unfortunately, we only saw about 96 percent totality as the total eclipse path was further west and north across much of Montana, northeast North Dakota, and southern Manitoba.

    Oh and yes for everybody here in the United States and also worldwide for that matter. Mark your calenders for August 21, 2017, the next total solar eclipse in the continental United States! We should absolutely not miss this once or twice in a lifetime event.

    Of course, somebody thoughtfully uploaded the evening news for that day on youtube.

  7. Jerry – Solar eclipses are not common. I hope you will reconsider and personally observe this amazing sight.

  8. So, a general update. It looks like it’s just me. David, Kelly, and Justin so far. Anybody else looking to meet up, please speak up now. The NSP after-eclipse party and / or Saturday evening seem to be the best bets for meeting up.

    Also, Kelly, I haven’t heard from you in a day or so. Did you get my email…?



Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *