“They call it a great wonder,
That the Sun would not,
though the sky was cloudless,
Shine warm upon men.”
– Sighvald, Norwegian poet, upon viewing a solar eclipse in 1030 AD
At this time of year – late spring – there is absolutely no doubt winter and any lingering remnants thereof, are left behind. The transition has been a smooth one, with both daytime and nighttime temperatures gradually warming as we approach the first day of summer on June 20. The weather seems to be in a holding pattern through the weekend. Warm and clear conditions are predicted.
This is especially exciting news because nature is presenting a celestial event with spectacular visual effects – a rare solar eclipse. Unfortunately, a weather permitting clause and a postponement day is not offered. No matter – if we are able to see it or not, the show will go on. But hopefully Mother Nature will cooperate May 20 as the sun, moon and earth take center stage.
Twenty years ago, similar conditions came together, except it was Jan. 4 during the winter. The eclipse was just before sunset. We lined up along the cliffs in Pacific Palisades, amidst other amateurs and scientists who brought their various telescopes and cameras.
The sun was descending on the horizon. The weather was holding, cold and moderately clear. Just as the eclipse began to get under way, a heavy blanket of coastal fog rolled in, obscuring the view. The timing…! A lot of gloomy people left their vantage points, disappointed. I am expecting (and hoping) the outcome will be different this time. We’ll see!
If all goes well, on May 20 beginning at 4:25 p.m. we will be able to view an “annular eclipse” (not to be confused with annual) of the sun. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s orbit goes directly across the face of the sun. Annular means a thin ring of the sun is still visible around the moon, a sort of “ring of fire.” In our location, according to NASA, 83% of the sun will be obscured. One hundred percent coverage or a total eclipse would require the moon to be in closer proximity to the earth. By 5:38 p.m. the eclipse will reach totality or maximum coverage.
At this magic time, choose a vantage point based on sky clarity. Our elevation in the foothills is ideal. If you want an excuse to get out of town for the weekend, many western national parks are offering programs led by park rangers, astronomers and NASA scientists. No matter your viewing point, safety precautions must be taken to protect your eyes. Even a small sliver of direct sunlight can cause permanent damage. To safely view, wear No. 14 welder’s glasses and use projection (see NASA’s website).
By sunset at 7:51 p.m., the show will be over.
The National Weather Service is now forecasting a marine layer and resulting cooler temperatures beginning Saturday and into next week.
However, I remain optimistic!
Sue Kilpatrick is a
Crescenta Valley resident and
Official Skywarn Spotter for the
National Weather Service. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.