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Oregonians get ready for the big eclipse

Path of totality for the August 21, 2017 eclipse

Path of totality for the August 21, 2017 eclipse

“The eclipse is coming, the eclipse is coming.”

In China, 715 years ago, that statement would’ve been met with fear and worry over what disaster the darkening of the skies would foretell to fall upon the leader.

The death of Christ was said to have been followed by a period of darkness during the day, which some historians believe may have been an eclipse that took place in 29 CE.

Nowadays, the upcoming eclipse on Aug. 21 is met with excitement. City leaders in the path of the upcoming eclipse probably worry about it. But that’s likely a concern over how to handle the estimated one million visitors who will be flocking to the state to watch, not as an omen of impending doom.

Where you live in the Willamette Valley depends on how much of the eclipse you’ll see. Linn, Benton, Marion and Polk counties will see a total eclipse.

These counties are in the path of totality, which occurs only when the moon’s umbral shadow sweeps across the surface of the Earth. Say what now?

The moon’s shadow has two parts, the umbra and the penumbra. The umbra is the dark, cone-shaped inner shadow and the penumbra is the faint outer shadow. Partial solar eclipses are visible from within the penumbral shadow while total solar eclipses are visible from within the umbral shadow.

A solar eclipse can only occur when the new moon passes between earth and sun. As the sun’s light falls upon the moon, it creates a shadow on the earth in that spot. Anyone in that spot will see the sun partially or totally covered up by the moon. The moon’s shadow usually misses us as it passes by because of the tilt of the earth’s axis. But occasionally, the geometry lines up correctly for people somewhere on earth to see some part of the moon’s shadow on earth where a solar eclipse is visible.

The path of totality is only about 75 miles wide. In the case of this eclipse, the path will start in the Pacific Ocean, then make landfall near Depoe Bay on the Oregon Coast at 9:04 a.m. The path of totality will traverse across Oregon, passing over Newport, Corvallis, Salem, Madras and Baker City.

The shadow will exit the state at 11:48 a.m. While the sun is being covered up, it is unsafe to look at the sun without eye protection in the form of special eclipse viewing glasses.

The amount of time you view the eclipse depends on where you are.

In Sisters, the view is 34 seconds; in Huntington, it’s two minutes, 9 seconds. During this time period of complete coverage, it is safe to take off your eclipse viewing glasses. But as soon as the moon’s shadow moves off the face of the sun, the glasses have to go back on again.

Those outside the path of totality will see a partial solar eclipse. In other words, the sun will look like it’s had a bite taken out of it, but the sky will not darken and you will need to use eye protection or some other viewing method such as a pinhole viewer the entire time.

Corvallis resident Bill Wickes will simply walk outside to see the total solar eclipse. An astronomy buff, scientist and retired engineer, Wickes is a member of Oregon State University’s Academy for Lifelong Learning, where he gave a presentation on the eclipse in May. Wickes saw a total eclipse of the sun on the Eastern seaboard in 1970.

“I drove from New Jersey where I was in grad school to see an eclipse in North Carolina, which was the only place you could see it,” he says. “It was a wonderful experience and I want my children and their young families to see this one, so they’re coming to visit me that week.”

The Aug. 21 eclipse is the first one that’s crossed over the entire United States in about 80 years.

“The last one in Oregon was in 1979 and it just went along the Columbia River,” he says. “It didn’t come as far south as Corvallis or Eugene.”

Residents in Eugene-Springfield, as well as north in Portland will see the sun covered by about 98 to 99 percent, weather permitting.

Because weather on the coast is iffy, the great majority of visitors are expected to head east over the mountains.

Hotel rooms and campsites in and near the path of totality have been gobbled up for months.

“If you are trying to drive to the path of totality the day of the eclipse, you would need to drive up one of the highways and find a place to pull over,” Wickes says. “But I think that will be a challenge the morning of the eclipse because other people will have the same idea, and I think it will be worse coming from north because people will be trying to get out of Portland.”

Eastern Oregon has a better chance of sunny skies, but it also has fewer highways, less infrastructure — and fewer port-a-potties. “State leaders are predicting one million people coming into the path,” Wickes says. “That’s a lot of people to suddenly arrive on the doorstep of the towns that are in the path, and I can imagine that when totality hits, if they’re on I-5 between Eugene and Portland, they’re probably just going to pull over and watch it, which may cause chaos on the freeways.”

The tragedy will be if it turns out to be cloudy in the valley and everybody thinks they will drive over the pass, he adds.

“If that happens there will be thousands and thousands of people doing the same thing so you will end up being stuck on Highway 20,” he says.

While being in 99 percent totality sounds almost as good as 100 percent, it’s not. The sun doesn’t get completely covered.

Those outside the path won’t see the darkening of the sky, because even though only 1 percent of the sun’s light is getting through, that’s still pretty bright.

You must leave your eye protection in place the entire time. And you won’t see the cool visuals such as the corona, or “crown” of plasma that surrounds the sun.

No matter where you’re viewing the eclipse from, plan ahead for eye protection.

Each person in your viewing party should have their own glasses, which can be found in several locations at a low cost.

“The other options are to make a pinhole in some cardboard and watch it that way,” says Wickes., who made a diagram for his ALL presentation. “There’s a lot of people who don’t grasp how dangerous it is to look at the sun without eye protection.”

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