"Ring of Fire" Eclipse: Where to see it? How to see it safely?

A partial solar eclipse photographed by the joint Japanese-American Hinode satellite. Hinode/XRT

(CBS/AP) LOS ANGELES -  On Sunday, May 20, people in the western United States and eastern Asia are in for a treat: The moon will slide across the sun, blocking everything but a blazing halo of light in what is known as a "Ring of Fire" eclipse.

Where to see the eclipse in the United States?

It's been almost two decades since such an eclipse, also known as an annular eclipse, was visible in the continental United States. To celebrate the end of that drought, nearly three dozen national parks in the path of the eclipse will host viewing parties.

The late day sun will transform into a glowing ring in southwest Oregon, Northern California, central Nevada, southern Utah, northern Arizona and New Mexico and finally the Texas Panhandle where it will occur at sunset on Sunday. For 3 ½ hours, the eclipse follows an 8,500-mile path. Viewing, from beginning to end, lasts about two hours. The ring phenomenon lasts as long as 5 minutes depending on location.

Outside this narrow band, parts of the West, Midwest and South - and portions of Canada and Mexico - will be treated to a partial eclipse. The Eastern Seaboard will be shut out, but people can log online to sites such as the Slooh Space Camera, which plans to broadcast the event live.

This year's solar show offers ringside seats at 33 national parks along the eclipse path including the Grand Canyon and Bryce Canyon. A partial eclipse can be viewed from another 125 national parks.

For die-hard sky gazers, six U.S. locations will see the moon cover about 95 percent of the sun's diameter. They include the Petroglyph National Monument, Redwoods National Park, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Zion National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

For a complete list of national parks where the eclipse can be seen, check the National Park Service's web page on the eclipse.

According to weather.com, conditions for viewing in most of the area in the path of the eclipse should be good, with a couple exceptions: southwest Oregon and northwest California may experience some cloud cover; eastern New Mexico and western Texas may experience clouds and storms.

How to view the eclipse safely?

Wherever you are, do not look directly at the eclipsed sun or you can get a serious eye injury. Wear specially made protective glasses that can be bought online or create your own contraption by punching a small pinhole in a cardboard box.

NASA recommends using welder's glasses with a number 14 filter to view the eclipse or other filters made specifically for solar observation. Sunglasses - even multiple pairs - photographic neutral density filters and polarizing filters, are not appropriate. In fact, infrared radiation from the sun "can cause a thermal retinal burn" even if "the Sun appears dim, or...you feel no discomfort" while using an unsafe filter.

If you buy special eyewear, you can reuse it just two weeks later, when Venus will crawl across the face of the sun - a rare occurrence known as the "transit of Venus" that will also require viewers to take precaution.

  • CBS News Staff

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