East Asia, western US await 'ring of fire' eclipse

AP News
Posted: May 20, 2012 6:08 AM
East Asia, western US await 'ring of fire' eclipse

People in parts of East Asia and the western United States are awaiting a rare "ring of fire" eclipse.

Early risers in southern China, northern Taiwan and southeastern Japan will get the best view, weather permitting, around dawn Monday. The eclipse will then move across the Pacific, with the western U.S. viewing the tail end.

The event, called an annular solar eclipse, occurs when the moon slides across the sun, blocking all but a blazing halo of light.

In Japan, cable cars will begin running early to give tourists an unobstructed view from the mountains, and ocean ferries will make special trips to allow viewing from offshore. Children will gather early at schools to view the eclipse with teachers. Stores are promoting special eclipse-viewing eyewear as well as ring-shaped goods of all sorts _ from wedding rings to doughnuts.

In Tokyo, where a ring eclipse was last seen in 1839, the event dominated Sunday's TV talk shows, with hosts providing viewing tips and information about special activities.

In Taiwan, the Taipei Astronomical Museum will open its doors at dawn, while Hong Kong's Space Museum will set up solar-filtered telescopes outside its building on the Kowloon waterfront.

The eclipse will follow a narrow 13,700-kilometer (8,500-mile) path for 3 1/2 hours. The ring phenomenon will last about five minutes, depending on location. People outside the narrow band will see a partial eclipse.

An annular solar eclipse is not as dramatic as a total eclipse, when the disk of the sun is entirely blocked by the moon. As in a total solar eclipse, the moon crosses in front of the sun, but the moon is too far from Earth and appears too small in the sky to blot out the sun completely.

The rare astronomical event will give a 16.4 billion yen ($208 million) boost to Japan's economy from the sale of eyewear, tours, planetarium visits and other items, according to an estimate by Kansai University economist Katsuhiro Miyamoto.

A city-run zoo in Yokohama, near Tokyo, will open early to show visitors how animals may react. The zoo has also set up live cameras to capture the movement of elephants, monkeys, kangaroos and penguins. Yokohama is inside the narrow band where the ring eclipse will be visible, weather permitting.

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"This is a chance that comes only once in hundreds of years. The data we collect will be extremely valuable for animal research," zoo official Yoshinori Kubo said.

In the western prefecture of Wakayama, another major viewing area, enthusiasts are organizing viewing parties at several locations.

Doctors and education officials warned of eye injuries from improper viewing. Education Minister Hirofumi Hirano demonstrated the use of eclipse glasses in a televised news conference.

Police also cautioned against traffic accidents caused by distraction during the eclipse and advised drivers to concentrate while on the road.

Japan's Meteorological Agency is predicting mostly cloudy weather in the country's eclipse viewing areas.

The last time this type of eclipse was seen in the U.S. was in 1994. This year's solar show offers ringside seats at 33 national parks along the eclipse path, including the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. A partial eclipse can be viewed from another 125 national parks.