A rare "annular eclipse" of the Sun will occur in our area (northern California) in the late afternoon of May 20, 2012. I encourage you to see it, regardless of whether you can be within the narrow path where the "ring of fire" will be visible. (You will at least see a deep partial eclipse of the Sun, if you are in the western US.)
An annular solar eclipse occurs when the Sun, Moon, and Earth are lined up, but the Moon is farther than average from Earth, so it looks a bit too small to fully cover the Sun. Thus, if you are at one of the right places (see the below map), the Sun will form a ring, or annulus, around the Moon. It's a special form of a partial solar eclipse that's cool to see (though not nearly as dramatic and mind-blowing as a total solar eclipse). You can view a map showing the eclipse path in detail here.
Online, you can zoom in on it and find specific locations from which the eclipse will be visible. Click on the location to find times, etc. Note that "UT" is "Universal Time" (the time in Greenwich, UK), and right now it is 7 hours ahead of PDT. So, for example, I find that in northern CA, the middle of the eclipse will occur around 6:28 pm PDT on May 20 (1:28 am UT on May 21), and the annular phase will last about 4.5 minutes if you are near the "centerline." (Note: the non-annular partial phases will last much longer, a couple hours total: 5:20 pm to 7:34 pm, plus or minus a few minutes, depending on exactly where you are.)
The centerline (from which the Moon will appear perfectly centered on the Sun at mid-eclipse) is the orange curve, and the blue lines mark the northern and southern edges of the path of annularity; outside the blue lines, you'll see a partial solar eclipse but not a complete annulus or ring. So, try to go to a favorable location, within the brown swath.
Choose your location wisely! You can find a summary graph that shows the percent cloudiness along the path here.
Oroville in CA (near Chico) has great odds, it seems: just 11% cloudiness. But it isn't super close to the centerline; Redding and Mt. Shasta are closer, but have somewhat worse odds. If you are between the two red lines, you'll see a complete "ring of fire." Outside that band, you'll see a partial eclipse, but not a full ring. You don't have to be right on the centerline, by the way -- just within the swath, if you want to see the "ring of fire," though it will last longer if you are closer to the centerline.
Have fun viewing the annular eclipse, but be sure to view it safely! And if you can't get to the path of annularity (the brown swath in the map), at least view the regular partial eclipse from wherever you happen to be at the time (late afternoon on May 20), if it's visible.
Why are people so drawn to magnets? (Bad pun, I know.) Magnets truly are fascinating, and a mini-movie was filmed at the NASA Space Sciences Laboratory, UC Berkeley, in 2007 showing just the amazing research that goes on regarding magnetic forces. Everything shown in the movie takes place around those laboratories as the scientists describe their research and discoveries. These scientists develop and conduct experiments and instruments to study the magnetic fields above the sun and to create theoretical models.
The site describes the movie saying, "Magnetic Movie is the aquavit, something not precisely
scientific but grants us an uncanny experience of geophysical and
cosmological forces." Take a gander at the short movie, it's beautifully artistic and cleverly done.
This morning I found a cool site featuring an interactive map called the Antipodes Map. What you can do is find your home (or any other place on the map) and the map will show its antipode - meaning the spot on the earth of which it is diametrically opposite. As the site explains, "Two points which are antipodal to one another are connected by a straight line through the centre of the Earth."
Therefore, if you click on, or move the original map, you can set a marker on a desired
location. The antipode map will automatically show its antipodal
location. So what can you use this for? Well, most importantly, it will show you where if you dug straight through the earth you'd end up (provided of course you were able to withstand all the radiation, heat, and intense compression you would experience).
Tomorrow, Saturday May 5, there will be a "super moon." This means that the moon will be full when it happens to be at "perigee," which is the closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit. The full moon will look unusually large, about 14% larger than when it is at "apogee" (the farthest point
from Earth in its elliptical orbit).
If you are interested in seeing it, try to look for it around moonrise, shortly after sunset (around 8pm), when it is close to the horizon. Furthermore, a psychological effect (still not fully understood) makes it look even bigger then. No Shade 14 glass or any other equipment is needed to safely view the moon (but not the Sun!).
On March 5 I posted a link to a video featuring Neil DeGrasse Tyson, titled The Most Astounding Fact. In the past month or so, this video has appeared repeatedly on Facebook as a beautiful and inspirational speech regarding the universe. Well, now the artist behind Zenpencils has taken that video and cartoonized it, and I think it's worth a look. Take a look here.
From the Zenpencils website: "I kept putting off trying to adapt this quote because it was too
intimidating. I knew that it would require me to draw stars and planets
which I’m not very comfortable with, but I loved the quote so much that I
just had to try it. I spent a lot longer than usual working on the
cosmic scenes and I’m pretty happy with how they turned out. I guess I
was also inspired by the film The Tree of Life which connects the story of a family with the history of the Universe."