On May 10, the moon is passing in front of the sun and creating an annulus eclipse, also known as a "ring of fire."
Since the moon is currently at a point near its apogee (the furthest distance it could be from the Earth) it is too small to cover the entire sun. Instead of a moment of darkness in the sky, there will be a thin ring of sunlight. These annular eclipses have been occurring more frequently than total solar eclipses, comprising of 33.2% of the eclipses in our 5000-year epoch, compared to a 26.7% occurrence rate of total solar eclipses. The remaining occurrences are hybrid and partial eclipses.
This particular eclipse has a magnitude rating of 0.9544, which means that the moon will be covering about 95.44% percent of the diameter of the sun as it passes between the Earth and its star. However, with 8.9% of the sun's visual area still shining brightly above us, there will only be a small drop in the brightness levels, which will not be very easily perceivable.
For Western Australia and certain islands of the Southern Pacific, the annular eclipse will be directly visible, provided the weather is good. There are also parts of New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, eastern Indonesia, southern Philippines, and Hawaii that will have a partial view of the eclipse.
NASA published a map showing the path of the annular solar eclipse, and EarthSky shows some of the best places and times to view the eclipse in Australia. You will need to wear protective solar filter glasses if you want to observe the eclipse, or you can go DIY style, and build your own simple viewing device (though please be careful, as insufficient protection runs a risk of damaging your eyesight!).
But if you are like 99% of the world, and you don’t happen to live in one of those places, you can see a live version of the solar eclipse on two websites online: through the Slooh Space Camera or the Coca-Cola Space Science Center.
You can also see photos from last year's eclipse, taken by skywatcher Joel Dykastra from Roswell, New Mexico.
If you've missed this eclipse, there will be one more this year on November 3, which will be visible in the northern Atlantic Ocean and equatorial Africa: it will be a very rare hybrid eclipse, which starts as an annular eclipse and then transitions into a full eclipse. After that, the next annular eclipse will occur on April 29, 2014, and the next total solar eclipse will take place on March 20, 2015. As the moon slowly recedes from the Earth at an infestiminal rate of 3.8 centimeters a year, the final total solar eclipse on Earth will occur in about 1.4 billion years – marking the possible end of the Ring of Fire that "burns burns burns" – but like the late country singer, Johnny Cash, as sure as night is dark and day is light, we probably won't be around to walk that line.
Image Credit: jimnista/Universe Today flickr gallery) Huntington Beach, California - May 20, 2012