Saturday, February 25, 2012

Triple celestial phenomena has astronomy buffs breathless

An annular eclipse is seen in this photo taken from Tinian Island in the Northern Mariana Islands on June 11, 2002. (Mainichi)

Starting with an annular eclipse on May 21, Japan will be treated to three rare celestial phenomena this year, exciting astronomy fans across the nation.

In the annular eclipse, the moon will pass between the Earth and the sun and leave nothing of our star visible but a bright golden ring. The last time the phenomenon was observed in Japan was 25 years ago in 1987, from Okinawa.

Weather permitting, this year's annular eclipse will be visible from southern Kagoshima Prefecture to southern Fukushima Prefecture -- a swathe of Japan with over 80 million residents. According to the National Astronomical Observatory of Japan (NAOJ) in Mitaka, Tokyo, the coming annular eclipse will be the first spectacle observable from such a large area in 932 years. Furthermore, in locations outside the abovementioned area, a partial eclipse is expected to be visible.

May 21 falls on a Monday, and the annular eclipse is expected to be observable around 7:30 a.m. "Many people will likely be able to see it from their own homes," says Masato Katayama, head of the NAOJ's Ephemeris Computation Office.

The prospects of this lucky year have astronomy buffs ecstatic. "All three (phenomena) are rare, magical astronomical events that one can hope to see once in a lifetime, if at all," says TV weather forecaster Takeshi Amatatsu. "That all three will take place in the same year makes me so happy to be living in this time." Read More