Remembering the Annular Eclipse of May 20, 2012

While the Solar Eclipse of 2017 was something I’ve known about since I was a kid, the Annular Eclipse of 2012 was one that caught me by surprise. But this was definitely a good opening act for the main show that was to happen in five years.

I just happened to be on the correct website that showed me the date and path of an Annular Eclipse that just so HAPPENED to be pretty close to where I live.

Because the Moon was at apogee (its furthest point in orbit, and too small to cover the Sun’s disc), the Annular Eclipse would cover up to 87% of the Sun’s disc along the Path of Annularity.  We nickname these events, “Ring of Fire” Eclipses, which is where the name Annular comes from – the word “annulus” is Latin for “ring.”

Those who remained in Southern California would still see a decent crescent Sun, significantly more than it would look in 2017, but this was a chance experience the Sun and Moon align into a “Ring of Fire,” and the drive wasn’t too far from us!  Having already seen a couple of partial solar eclipses over the past decade, I knew I needed to take that chance.

My brother had an RV at the time, and we decided to make it an excuse to have my parents and siblings all take the ride together to Cedar City, Utah, where we’d watch the event from an old work acquaintance and family friend of my father’s.

This being an Annular Eclipse, that meant that there would be no circumstance where the eclipse would be safe to view without any protection. I saw online that the Griffith Observatory would be selling special eclipse viewers for such the occasion just before we were to leave for Utah. An excuse to go visit one of my favorite places in the world? Oh no, what a nightmare! Despite the eclipse being on a Sunday, I learned from a news source that they were sold out by Friday night, just after I got them.

The reason why I didn’t have a solar filter for my telescope nor the amazing images I had from the 2017 Eclipse was because I didn’t think of that at the time!  While I may be a passionate astrophotographer now (plus a telescope operator at the very place I bought the eclipse viewers from), this event happened long before I ventured into that world. It just wasn’t on the table back then!  

All I could do at the time was do what everyone does without the proper equipment – take a cell phone picture while holding up the filter in front of it.

Thankfully, people loved the posts, and asked me to keep them coming.

Were these my first official astrophotos?

While the moon was slowly covering more of the sun, a phenomenon occurred, one that only happens during solar eclipses. As the sun’s light was shining through the leaves of the trees, the holes of light were projecting images of the sun. This is called “pinhole projection.”


For those that do not understand how that works, the following picture explains it.

As the moon covered more of the sun, the crescents being projected on the house grew slimmer.

Anyone who stared at the Sun with the naked eye would not have been able to tell there was an eclipse in progress. On the other hand, you could tell that something felt off with the Sun due to your surroundings feeling eerily different. Despite the Sun and sky looking just as bright as it always does, you could feel that it was giving less heat, and the landscape was getting darker.

Finally, at 7:30, the anticipated moment arrived!

Once the Moon completely crossed over, and the “Ring of Fire” alignment was complete, we could hear the cheering roar of Cedar City’s 30,000 residents! It was as if the entire town was a stadium of spectators.

The host family immediately played “Ring of Fire” by Johnny Cash over their speakers, a very fitting song!

As for the pinhole projections, usually they disappear if it’s a total eclipse (as there’s no more of the sun’s image visible). But during an Annular Eclipse, you see something else that’s almost equally incredible – they project little ringlets! As you can see in the picture below, the house was littered with little rings for about 5-7 minutes!


You can easily tell by the above picture that the eclipsed sun is still too bright for the naked eye, however, the lens flare is actually an image of the eclipsed sun!

The Annular Solar Eclipse of May 20, 2012 was a great opening act, and it made my wait for 2017 a little easier to bear.  Of course, the Great American Eclipse and my experiences with that event overshadowed this eclipse by far. However, getting to spend time with family and friends was the icing on the cake, and it gave this astronomy blogger much needed experience points so that I can tell you straight what such events are like!

Annular eclipses are admittedly not even close to being as spectacular as a Total Eclipse, but they do provide a great experience for those wishing for one. You can spend a significant amount of time looking at the surrounding landscape and enjoy the phenomena that you miss while watching the Sun. If anything, they are a great excuse to bust out your solar filters and take images or sequences, and I know that when the next Annular Eclipse rolls around in 2023, I’ll be much better prepared!

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