Forthcoming Annular Eclipses

Although they are by no means as striking as total eclipses, annular eclipses can afford a semblance of the experience. On June 20, 2002, the narrow path of a short-lived annular eclipse will snake its way across the northern Pacific. A better opportunity presents itself in the following year, on May 31, 2003, when Iceland, Greenland, or the Highlands of Scotland should be your destination.

On that date a most peculiar annular eclipse will occur, making it interesting in its own right. Solar eclipses can only be seen during the daytime, of course, but this one involves the Sun effectively peeking over the top of the planet. The date is just three weeks before the summer solstice, so the Northern Hemisphere is tilted almost as far toward the Sun as it goes, with the result that the Land of the Midnight Sun is indeed getting 24 hours of sunlight. Any solar eclipse will be visible at that time of year if you are far enough north.

In this case a partial eclipse occurs over a vast area covering Alaska, all the Arctic, Europe, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Russia, central Asia, and Siberia, but the annular eclipse is detectable only from a restricted D-shaped region centered near Iceland. This covers some of Greenland to the northwest and to the southeast the Faeroes, Shetlands, and parts of northern Scotland.

Undoubtedly many enthusiasts will be heading for the north Atlantic region to see this event, but if you go be sure to take your alarm clock. The eclipse happens at around four in the morning, with the Sun barely above the horizon.

An even better opportunity occurs on October 3, 2005. The track then will sweep over the Iberian Peninsula and then diagonally down through Africa.

Readers in the United States who are eagerly anticipating the total solar eclipse in August 2017 might care to note that they will have a chance to practice, using an annular eclipse, in 2012. On May 20 the event will begin over southern China and then arc up over Japan and the northern Pacific Ocean before meeting the coast of North America over northern California and the southwestern tip of Oregon. The path of the annular eclipse will then paint a stripe through central Nevada and other western states before petering out in northwestern Texas. The choice place from which to watch? I'd go for the Four Corners region, where Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado meet.

Although there are more annular than total eclipses scheduled soon, it happens that overall the total eclipses are better positioned for viewing: by chance most of the annular eclipses due over the next decade are mainly over the oceans. Give thanks for small mercies.

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