あす金環日食 天空のドラマを堪能したい

The Yomiuri Shimbun (May. 21, 2012)
Let's enjoy a rare astronomical spectacle!
あす金環日食 天空のドラマを堪能したい(5月20日付・読売社説)

An annular solar eclipse, a phenomenon in which the moon blocks out most of the sun, leaving a ring of light around its circumference, takes place on Monday morning, May 21. The annular eclipse will be visible along the Pacific side of the country, from southern Kyushu to the southeastern part of Fukushima Prefecture.

About two-thirds of the nation's population live in areas where the eclipse can be observed. It is said to be first time in 932 years--since the late Heian period (794-1192)--that such a large proportion of the population will be able to see an annular solar eclipse.

Another annular solar eclipse can be observed in Japan in 18 years, but the area from which it can be viewed will be limited to Hokkaido.

This time is definitely a precious opportunity to view a heavenly spectacle. Why not take advantage of a wonderful astronomical show?

The eclipse begins from the top right side of the sun at about 6 a.m., evolving into a perfect, golden "ring of fire," at about 7:30 a.m. This state of "annularity" will last a maximum of five minutes or so.


Be careful of accident

The moment the edge of the moon overlaps that of the sun should not be missed. Sunlight appears to trickle out from the sun, creating gleaming beads, a phenomenon known as "Baily's beads."

Viewing parties and other events related to the eclipse are scheduled in many parts of the country.

Given that the phenomenon occurs while people are commuting to school or workplaces, however, care must be taken not to fall while looking up at the sky while walking or cause an accident while driving.

Avoid observing the sun with the naked eye, which can harm your eyes. Injury of the retina can produce such symptoms as the appearance of black spots in your eyesight and distortion of objects.

These symptoms usually disappear in about a week, but more long-lasting serious eye injuries can happen.

Special eclipse sunglasses have been on sale for some time. Viewers can also enjoy the phenomenon by way of what is called the pinhole method, observing the sun's images that are projected onto a surface through a small hole made in a piece of paper. Sunshine filtering through leaves can also cast an image of the eclipsed sun onto the ground.

The National Astronomical Observatory of Japan and other expert organizations have introduced various observation methods, which can serve as a useful reference.

The annular solar eclipse provides astronomical researchers with an excellent opportunity.

A project has been undertaken to gauge the size of the sun more exactly by recording precisely the scope of the full "ring of fire," or annularity.


Is Earth cooling?

The sun is an immensely huge lump of gases, and interaction between the gases yields the sun's energy.

Determining the size of the sun more accurately would allow a more detailed understanding of solar energy generation.

Currently, the sun is a focus of attention of experts around the world because of an anomaly: It's activity has been at a low level last seen about 200 years ago, when Earth was in the midst of a cooling trend, according to researchers.

In addition to findings in studies by researchers in many foreign countries, data obtained in space by Hinode, the Japanese solar observation satellite, point to a steady decline in the sun's activities. Do these observations indicate Earth is again heading for a cooling phase?

The importance of solar studies is taking on increasing importance.

Although the designed lifetime of Hinode has ended, no plan has been discussed by the government about the wisdom of developing a successor, while budgetary appropriations for sun-related studies have been trimmed continually.

The government must continue to extend a certain amount of financial support to this field of research.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, May 20, 2012)
(2012年5月20日01時39分 読売新聞)

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