Solar Eclipse: ‘Ring of Fire’ Coming Sunday

The rare annular solar eclipse will be visible on the West Coast of North America and in parts of Asia on May 20 and 21

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Don’t look directly at it (not to sound like your elementary-school teacher), but plan on checking out a “ring of fire” partial eclipse on Sunday, May 20, if you live on the West Coast of North America.

In this weekend’s annular solar eclipse, the moon will slide in front of the sun and block 94% of its light. Because the moon is near apogee — the point in its orbit when it’s farthest away from Earth — it appears smaller to us and will cover most of the sun, leaving a ring of fiery light blasting the edges. (What, you thought it was a Johnny Cash reference?)

(PHOTOS: Total Eclipse of the Sun)

Unfortunately for folks on the East Coast, the sun will have already set by the time the eclipse begins at 5:24 p.m. PDT. Those living in the central U.S. and Canada may miss the full ring-of-fire effect but will still get a partial eclipse. Viewers in Asia will also catch a glimpse in the early-morning hours of May 21. Check out NASA’s viewing map to get an idea of when and where you can get your best view.

Because an annular solar eclipse requires Earth, the moon and the sun to be in a particular alignment, the event is rare; this is the first such eclipse since 1994.

Remember, though, that looking directly at the sun — no matter how eclipsed — is dangerous for the eyes. Use solar filters, wear a pair of solar-safe viewing glasses or build a pinhole projector instead. You’ll want to be able to see the next annular eclipse when it comes in May 2013.

PHOTOS: Total Eclipse of the Moon