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May 18, 2012
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'Ring of fire' eclipse to grace skies Sunday evening

For Lake Tahoe Basin sky watchers, yet another treat is on the horizon.

In April, there was the fireball that shook windows and woke residents as it exploded over the Sierra Nevada. Earlier this month, there was the bigger and brighter "super moon." And on Sunday, residents and visitors will be in a prime position to witness a "ring of fire" as it passes over the western U.S.

Lake Tahoe sits in a narrow, 8,500-mile-long swath of earth where a ring eclipse will block out all but the outer rim of the sun, leaving a glowing orange halo in the sky.

A ring eclipse - technically called an annular solar eclipse - does not completely block out the sun like a total eclipse. For a ring eclipse, the moon crosses in front of the sun, but is too far from Earth and appears too small in the sky to block out the sun completely.

"It is wonderful but not as dramatic as a total eclipse," said Nick Schneider, co-author of "The Cosmic Perspective" and an astronomy professor at the University of Colorado. "It is the second-most-amazing eclipse ever seen."

May 1994 was the last time such an eclipse was visible in the continental U.S. and it will be another two decades - October 2023 - before the next "ring of fire" can be seen in the lower 48 states.

The arc where the phenomenon will be most prominent starts Sunday morning near Thailand, runs through the southern part of Japan over the Pacific Ocean and into Northern California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and New Mexico before winding up the day over the panhandle of Texas. Areas just outside the path will see only a partial eclipse.

For South Lake Tahoe, a partial eclipse will start at 5:16 p.m. and end around 7:38, according to NASA. The full eclipse is expected at 6:31 p.m. The ring effect will last about three minutes, according to the agency.

Robert Grover, president of the Northern Colorado Astronomical Society, said he expects to travel more than 400 miles to Southern Utah to see the phenomenon.

"For a total eclipse, it is worth traveling anywhere on Earth to witness it," he said. "For an annular eclipse, it is worth driving a fairly long distance or even taking a short flight to get to the path of totality. For partial eclipses, just stay near home and enjoy it."

People should take caution when taking in the sight. Serious eye injury can result from looking directly at the eclipsed sun. Wearing specially made protective glasses or using a piece of cardboard box with a pinhole punched in it to create the image of the eclipse are two ways to safely view the sight.

Weather at Lake Tahoe should cooperate with the celestial occurrence. Sunday is expected to be sunny with a high of 72 degrees, according to the National Weather Service in Reno.

- Greeley Tribune reporter Vanessa Harmoush and The Associated Press contributed to this story.


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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated May 18, 2012 09:13PM Published May 18, 2012 09:11PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.