The 5 Eclipses of 2012

Posted January 28, 2012 by User 1

The year 2012 will be an exciting one in terms of eclipses for those living along the Pacific. For everyone else, it will be somewhat of a disappointment. There will be 5 eclipses predicted to occur from now until the end of the year and all will be centered on the Pacific Ocean.

The first eclipse of the year will occur on May 20-21 and will be an annular solar eclipse where the Moon's diameter is smaller than that of the Sun. This event begins near Hong Kong at sunrise, passes Tokyo in the morning, crosses the northern Pacific and makes landfall at Crescent City, CA before continuing through Reno, St. George, UT, Albuquerque, NM and finally reaches Lubbock, TX in time for sunset. The partial eclipse is visible over a much wider area stretching from the North Pole south to Hawaii. This will be the first annular eclipse in the United States since May 10, 1994.

Just two weeks later, on June 04, is the second eclipse on the year. This will be a partial lunar eclipse visible in the early morning, for the Western Hemisphere, and evening for the Eastern Hemisphere. About one-third of the moon's disk will be covered by the Earth's umbra at maximum eclipse.

The third "eclipse" of 2012 occurs just one day later on June 05-06, 2012. This "eclipse" is a transit of Venus where the planet Venus eclipses a small portion of the Sun's surface as it makes its way across the Sun's disk in a six-hour journey. Venus appears at a slightly different position relative to the Sun and the Sun at a slightly different position from the background as from different places on Earth because of parallax. As a result, astronomers have historically used these transits to determine Earth's distance to the Sun by using the angle that Venus appears to shift relative to the Sun along with the angle Venus shifts relative to the background to determine how much the Sun shifts relative to the background and therefore the distance to the Sun. Expeditions were sent around the world to the optimal viewing sites and have led to reasonably accurate results. This method has now been obsoleted by more advanced methods which have yielded results to within a few meters. Still many groups have teamed up to obtain their own results to see how close they can come to the modern value.

The transit will occur on the afternoon of June 05 for the Western Hemisphere and the morning of June 06 for the Eastern Hemisphere. Due to the length of the event, at least a portion of it is visible from almost everywhere on the planet with the exceptions being almost all of Antarctica, southern and eastern South America, western Africa and extreme western Europe. The event will be visible without a telescope but just barely as Venus is tiny -- less than 1/30 the width of the Sun. Using a telescope with a proper solar filter will provide a much better albeit somewhat boring view. The excitement lies in that the next transit of Venus won't occur until December 11, 2117 -- over 105 years from this one. It will be a long wait to miss this one.

The fourth eclipse of the year will be a total solar eclipse on November 13-14 which will be visible from northern Australia and the southern Pacific. The only land this eclipse passes over will be Queensland, Australia on the morning of the 14th; the rest of the eclipse track is over open ocean. A partial eclipse will be visible from almost all of Australia, Oceania and extreme southern South America.

The year wraps up with a relatively unimpressive penumbral lunar eclipse on November 28 to be visible from most of the Eastern Hemisphere in addition to North America. The northern portion of the Moon will appear to slightly darken during the eclipse as a result of the Moon entering the Earth's penumbra. Viewers on the moon see a Sun that is partially eclipsed by the Earth.

More information and reminders will be coming as these events draw near. Get ready to enjoy the new year!


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