The first solar eclipse of the 21st century to affect the continental United States will take place on Sunday, May 20, 2012 and will cover a narrow path from Asia to the western U.S. (a partial eclipse can be seen in a wider area across western North America).
If you're in the path – which includes parts of Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico and Texas – of this solar eclipse, get ready for a spectacular celestial show. But don't look up in the sky without proper eye protection – you could damage your eyesight.
Sunday's eclipse is not a total eclipse but an annular eclipse, meaning the moon will not block the whole sun. That's because, according to NASA, the moon is as far away from the earth as it can get this weekend – thus smaller in the sky. For a total eclipse, the moon needs to be closer to the earth, and larger in the sky. The interesting thing about an annular eclipse, and this one in particular, is the ring of light it creates around the edge of the moon.
Here's how NASA explains Sunday's solar eclipse:
During an annular eclipse the moon does not block the entirety of the sun, but leaves a bright ring of light visible at the edges. For the May eclipse, the moon will be at the furthest distance from Earth that it ever achieves – meaning that it will block the smallest possible portion of the sun, and leave the largest possible bright ring around the outside.