See the Solar Eclipse with your kids!

Flickr/ NASA Goddard Photo and Video Image Credit: Hinode/XRT

Did you know the sun will turn into a ring of fire, known as an ANNULAR ECLIPSE, on May 20, 2012? Better question- how in the world will this happen and where can you take your kids to see this amazing event?  Here are some answers!

When the moon passes in front of the sun and blocks the light from reaching earth, it is called a solar eclipse.  Because the moon’s orbit is elliptical, its distance from the earth changes slightly, so it can appear smaller or larger when it passes in front of the sun.  An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is too small to completely block out the sun, therefore a ring of fire is still visible around the edges of the moon.  One has not been seen in the USA in almost 18 years, and the next total solar eclipse will not occur until 2017.  This May’s event is special, and definitely one that your kids will remember!

On May 20th, the afternoon sun will become eclipsed and the ring of fire will be seen in various spots across the western half of the USA.  Starting near Lubbock, TX, the full annular eclipse will be visible in a path that passes over Albuquerque, NM, St. George, UT, Reno, NV, Chico, CA, and Medford, OR.  For those east of Texas, or outside of the path, a crescent-shaped sun can be visible.

Eclipse map/figure/table/predictions courtesy of Fred Espenak, NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center

National Parks

Some of the best places to take kids to see the Annular Solar Eclipse are at National Parks and Recreation Areas.  Most of the 150 National Parks in the Western U.S. and Alaska would be great places to view the eclipse, as long as there is an unobstructed view of the western horizon and a sky free of thick clouds.  Several National Parks are hosting viewing events with telescopes set up for the public to use and rangers on hand. These parks boast grand vistas, clear air and dark skies for optimum viewing.

Bryce Canyon National Park will be holding a 4-day astronomy event to view the incredibly dark sky of Utah with huge telescopes.  The “Ring of Fire” solar eclipse will be completely seen before the sun sinks below the horizon.  Free solar glasses will be handed out to all visitors for this amazing event.  Find details on the NPS website for the Annual Astronomy Festival.

Glen Canyon National Recreation Area offers many great viewing areas for the eclipse of the sun.  Be sure to find a location where there is an unobstructed view of the horizon as the eclipse will only last 3-4 minutes before setting.  Expert astronomers and solar telescopes will be on hand to view the eclipse and the stars after dark.  From May 18-20, many activities and family-friendly events will take place during the Annular Eclipse Festival Events.

Grand Canyon National Park will be a dramatic setting for viewing the annular eclipse of the sun.  Rangers will set up pinhole cameras and/or “reverse projection” to be able to see the eclipsed sun at posted locations throughout the park.  On the South Rim, solar telescopes will be set up by the Tucson Amateur Astronomy Association to be shared with the public for the eclipse and a Star Party after dark.  An early-afternoon program about eclipses and the latest research will also be offered by NASA scientists.  It is free to the public and is available on a first-come, first-served basis.  Find information on times and locations, and sign up at the Grand Canyon Visitor Center starting at 8:00 am on May 20.  See the Grand Canyon NPS website for more information.

Great Basin National Park is in the bull’s-eye path for the annular solar eclipse.  A special program will take place at the Great Basin Visitor Center in Baker, Nevada.  Rangers will be on hand with telescopes to view the eclipse that will begin at 5:20pm.  Solar glasses can be purchased in the bookstore.

Flickr/ Joaquin Souyris I

City Events

Albuquerque, New Mexico, has been called one of the best cities to view the Annular Solar Eclipse.  It is directly on the center path of the sun and has amazing views to the west.  I can just imagine riding the tram to the top of Sandia Mountain to see this amazing event.  Check out these options for viewing the eclipse in Albuquerque, led by astronomers, graduate students, and museum educators.  Each one has a direct view of the horizon so that the eclipse will be visible.  Many events offer kids activities and education about astronomy for families.  The first contact of the moon to the sun begins around 6:20 pm in Albuquerque.  Note that the event held at Petroglyph National Monument is sold out.  For information on each location, check out the City of Albuquerque Convention and Visitor’s Bureau.

(Visit early in the day for educational events or viewing of the eclipse)

(Visit early in the day for educational events or viewing of the eclipse)

(viewing and education)

(educational events only)

(Vendors and educators on hand and viewing of the eclipse)

(viewing only)


Reno, Nevada, will see the first contact of the moon on the sun starting at 5:15pm.  A great place to observe the spectacular occurrence of the Annular Eclipse is at the Fleischmann Planetarium and Science Center.  The public is invited to this free event from 4-7pm on the University of Nevada, Reno, campus.

Ashland, Oregon, is home to the Science Works Museum who will be hosting events during their Astro Blast Weekend, May 19-20.  An eclipse viewing party for the public will begin at 5:08 on Sunday.

Kanarraville, Utah, has been named by NASA officials as the “Sweet Spot” for viewing the Annular Eclipse since it lies in the center path.  Bring camp chairs, blankets, and eclipse glasses, and find a spot in the main viewing area just off of Spring Creek Road or along Old Highway 91.  The eclipse will start there around 6:15pm.  On hand will be vendors with food and souvenirs, as well as an Associate Professor from Southern Utah University willing to share several telescopes with the public.

Cedar City, Utah, is hosting a free “Solar Eclipse Extravaganza” on Saturday, May 19 from 11 am – 3 pm at the Aquatic Center.  Everyone is invited to a fun afternoon of hands-on learning, telescopes on display, and free “Sweet Spot” eclipse glasses.  A map will be available with location suggestions for viewing the eclipse.

Flickr/ Photogan

Tips for Viewing the Annular Solar Eclipse

DO NOT LOOK DIRECTLY AT THE SUN.  I repeat, do not look at the sun!  Make sure that your kids do not look at it!  The brightness of its light, even with 95% of it blocked, can be blinding.  The annular eclipse is much brighter than a total eclipse so everyone viewing the event MUST have eye protection.

Flickr /roundedbygravity
  • Purchase “Eclipse” glasses (solar filters) or welder’s goggles, rated 12 or higher, to look directly at the sun.  Regular sunglasses or anything other than the above does not give protection.
  • Consider taking an umbrella with you to block the view of the sun from your kids. It can be a great reminder to them to not look at the sun until their solar glasses are firmly in place.
  • View the sun through a solar telescope or solar binoculars.  There are many viewing events throughout the west, especially at National Parks, where these tools are set up for the public.
  • Use a professional or home-made pinhole projector.  These allow a sliver of light to pass through onto a white board where you can see the shape of the sun being cut into a sliver by the moon.  The easiest way to show your kids how to do this is to criss-cross your fingers to make a waffle weave and look at the shadow on the ground.  The small light sections will be shaped like the crescent of the sun as it is eclipsed.  Look at the ground under dappled shade trees for hundreds of crescent images in light.
Flickr/ JP

Wherever you are, be sure to go outside and take the time to see this unique event on May 20, 2012.  Check out your local planetarium for more information or the chance to view the sun through their telescope if you are unable to travel to one of the “Sweet Spots” of the Annular Eclipse.

For more information on solar and lunar eclipses, see Fred Espenak’s Eclipse Web Site.

About the author

Michelle McCoy is Trekaroo’s Lead Travel Expert. She and her husband love traveling to National Parks and going camping, but when life with 4 young kids keeps them home - especially now with a high schooler - they find their fun in traveling to the local beaches in Orange County, CA and hiking in the wilderness areas nearby.
3 Responses
  1. Daisy A Torres

    It WILL be amazing to see a solar eclipse on May 20th. I am only 11 years old and always wanted to see a solar eclipse.My favorite subject is SCIENCE,so I always study science.I even have a great TEACHER(UNCLE) that teaches me science almost everyday.

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