Skywatchers are all afire today: there will be a solar eclipse on Sunday, May 20, 2012, but one that is a relative rarity: an annular solar eclipse which will leave a "ring of fire" in the sky.
In an annular solar eclipse, the moon and sun are directly in line, as in a total eclipse. However, since the moon's orbit around the Earth is an ellipse, in an annular eclipse the moon's "apparent" size is smaller than the sun's. Since they are in-line, viewers will see a "ring of fire," as shown above.
Solar Eclipse 2012, as it's now being called due to its rarity, is the first annular solar eclipse visible in the United States in nearly 18 years. The term annular stems from the Latin "annulus," which means "ring."
While the U.S will be treated to a "ring of fire," the path of annularity in the United States is only about 186 miles in width, and "merely" stretches from a small strip of southwest Oregon and extreme northern California (not including the Bay Area) to western Texas. In between it will cross parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado and New Mexico. According to Space.com, approximately 6.6 million people live within the path of annularity.
Multiple solar eclipses as well as multiple warnings should have sunk in by now, but do not attempt to watch a solar eclipse with your naked eye. The safest way is a pinhole projector, which The Exploratorium explains in great detail here.
Those outside the path of annularity or even the path of any part of "Solar Eclipse 2012" can still view the eclipse. The Slooh Space Camera will broadcast "Solar Eclipse 2012" live, using telescopic feeds from Japan, California, Arizona and New Mexico. That live feed starts at 5:30 p.m. EDT on Sunday.
A list of other live streams of Solar Eclipse 2012 follows:
Panasonic is planning a live video stream from high atop Japan's Mount Fuji, which is inside the track of annularity. Video coverage via Ustream is scheduled to begin at 5 p.m. EDT and is embedded below.
Hong Kong Observatory: A live webcast from Hong Kong is scheduled to begin at 5:41 p.m. EDT.
The University of North Dakota SEMS (Sun Earth Moon Systems) team is organizing an eclipse webcast from Shasta College in Redding, Calif. The streaming is scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. EDT. The UND's SEMS team has been webcasts of eclipses since 2004, so they have it down.
The most unusual "view" of Solar Eclipse 2012 may come in the virtual world Second Life. The aforementioned Exploratorium will provide information about the eclipse in Second Life, so if you are a "resident" of that world, head for Exploratorium Island.
Streaming live video by Ustream