Solar eclipse to appear over northern California in May

Students and members of the UC Davis community are preparing for a special type of solar eclipse that will occur in the evening sky in northern California on May 20. This eclipse will be an “annular” (meaning “ring-like”) type of solar eclipse, which is when the moon passes directly in front of the sun without completely covering it and appears as a complete disk within a disk.

“We don’t get to see it often because our moon isn’t on the right plane. [The plane of orbit] is 5 degrees off, so to catch it on the right plane is really spectacular,” said Jared Clapham, a senior communication major at UC Davis who is currently taking an astronomy class.

People who view the eclipse from the city of Davis will only see a partial eclipse on May 20, beginning at 5:15 p.m. and ending at 7:38 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Maximum eclipse will occur at 6:31 p.m., viewing from Davis, when the moon will appear to cover 86 percent of the sun’s disk somewhat low in the western sky.

Kevin Delano and Rachael Johnson, both senior geology majors, are co-presidents of the UC Davis Geology Club.

“We see this as an opportunity to educate people about a real cool natural phenomenon they will experience,” Delano said.

The Geology Club will be offering special solar eclipse glasses on the Quad during Picnic Day for a $2 donation, and afterward by special arrangement.

“One cannot view the eclipse without the glasses because the sun will damage your eyes,” Delano stressed.

The other type of eclipse is a lunar eclipse, when the earth casts a shadow on the moon.

“A lunar eclipse is seen by half of the entire planet,” said Howard Spero, a professor of geology and chair of the geology department at UC Davis.

“Even though solar eclipses are more frequent, much fewer people see [total solar eclipses] because you have to be on a specific part of the planet at a specific time to be able to see one,” Spero said.

The upcoming annular eclipse can be seen in the U.S. from within a wide band that stretches from northern California southeastward toward western Texas.

To see the disk-within-a-disk, ring-like effect, viewers can drive to any area along Interstate 5 between Willows, Calif. and Glendale, Ore. and look for clear skies, or anywhere along Highway 101 between Garberville, Calif. and Bandon, Ore. A Google interactive map of the solar eclipse path can be found on the NASA.gov website.

“It’s silly not to [drive north]. This is an opportunity of a lifetime,” Spero said, referring to the short one-hour drive.

According to Sky & Telescope magazine, although the sky doesn’t turn dark during an annular eclipse, the sky will turn dark blue, allowing the planet Venus to be seen to the left of the sun.

Spero is an “eclipse chaser” and has traveled all over the world to see seven total solar eclipses in 21 years on four continents, when day becomes night for a span of a few or several minutes. He has also seen one annular eclipse.

Kenneth Verosub, also a professor in the geology department, traveled to China with Spero to see a total eclipse there in July 2009.

Verosub teaches a course called “Earth Science, History, and People,” which, he explained, involves studying the interactions between geologic processes and human activity.

“I believe that people need to look up at the sky more than they do,” Verosub said. “To me, it’s a connection to the long span of human history and to the way that earlier people related to or responded to these kinds of events.”

BRIAN RILEY can be reached at science@theaggie.org.

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