This coming weekend, May 20-21, 2012 will provide us with a view of an annular eclipse of the Sun, which NASA plans to observe and take images of as part of the joint JAXA/NASA Hinode mission.
On May 20-21, 2012 an annular eclipse of the Sun will be visible from within a narrow corridor along Earth’s northern Hemisphere — beginning in eastern Asia, crossing the North Pacific Ocean, and ending in the western United States. A partial eclipse will be visible from a much larger region covering East Asia, North Pacific, North America, and Greenland.
During an annular eclipse the moon does not block the entirety of the sun, but leaves a bright ring of light visible at the edges. For the May eclipse, the moon will be at the furthest distance from Earth that it ever achieves – meaning that it will block the smallest possible portion of the sun, and leave the largest possible bright ring around the outside.
The joint JAXA/NASA Hinode mission will observe the eclipse and provide images and movies that will be available on the NASA website at http://www.nasa.gov/sunearth. Due to Hinode’s orbit around the Earth, Hinode will actually observe 4 separate partial eclipses.” Scientists often use an eclipse to help calibrate the instruments on the telescope by focusing in on the edge of the moon as it crosses the sun and measuring how sharp it appears in the images. An added bonus: Hinode’s X-ray Telescope will be able to provide images of the peaks and valleys of the lunar surface.
The orbits for NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory (SDO), NASA’s Solar Terrestrial Relations Observatory (STEREO), and the joint ESA/NASA mission the Solar Heliospheric Observatory will not provide them with a view of the eclipse.
The next solar eclipse will be the total solar eclipse on November 13, 2012.