Thursday, August 24, 2017

The Eclipse

Photo Credit: Lynn D. Townsend
On August 21st I traveled to Madras, Oregon to see what has been called "The Great American Eclipse." I choose Madras because it's relatively close to where I live (about 280 miles by car), it was near the center of totality, and being in Eastern Oregon, the weather should be good (I made my plans in April, way too soon for weather forecasts).

The Eclipse

There are two ways of thinking about being in an area of totality of an eclipse: the Moon is covering the sun or the Moon's shadow is passing over you. Most people think of the former. But the latter is a useful model, too.

The Moon first touched the Sun's disk at about 9:06 AM. The Moon took so long to cover the Sun that it was nearly impossible to watch constantly unless you have very strong neck muscles. So I'd check every few minutes. We were in the penumbra of the Moon's shadow.

The ambient light appeared to stay the same for most of the eclipse but this is more because our eyes adjust. You can see plenty well outside on a sunny day and inside with light bulbs. But outside is much much brighter (this is why cameras need a flash for interior pictures). But with the Sun about half-covered and looking like a fat crescent moon, the temperature started to drop. A breeze picked up making it almost cool.

As more and more of the Sun disappeared behind the Moon, it did grow dimmer, almost looking like a cloudy day. The temperature kept dropping but not uncomfortably so. We were deeper in the penumbra.

Then the sun disappeared behind the Moon. We were in the umbra of the shadow. For us, that was just after 10:19 AM. The sky and ambient light was like just after the sun set but in all directions as on the horizon you could see outside the umbra of the shadow of the Moon. But the best part was the Moon/Sun combination itself as the Sun's corona became visible. It was lovely and awesome as the dark circle of the moon was surrounded by shifting white light (see picture above). It was magical and other-worldly. It didn't feel like something real. Yet it was, amazingly real.

If you look closely at the picture above, you can see the star Regulus.

Totality lasted just over two minutes. The first sign that it was over was a bright spot on the edge of the Moon. This is the sun coming through the mountains of the Moon and lets you know it's time to look away.

Nearly everyone present started applauding. I was wondering who they were applauding.

Then the Moon just as slowly as it covered the sun, uncovered our star. It grew light out and warmer almost immediately. Within a few minutes, unless you looked at the sun (through eclipse glasses), you'd never know there was an eclipse still happening.

The Good

Seeing the eclipse, probably the last one in my lifetime near where I live, was wonderful and I'm so glad I got to see it.

And Sunday night I had a really good steak at a restaurant in Bend, Oregon (about 40 miles south of Madras).

Where we were was near the airport. Starting about ten minutes after totality ended, airplanes started departing the airport. Mostly private jets. They would be about 10 minutes apart. This went on for at least two hours.

The Bad

The Oregon Solar Fest put us (and about 1,000 other cars) in a farmer's alfalfa field. It was dusty. In the morning it was like a car-alarm symphony as people kept setting off their car alarms. There were so many people there cell service just died. They organizers didn't have enough bathrooms (portapottys) set up. I waited an hour and 10 minutes once (after that I went in the trees) and my wife waited over two hours. My car is filthy inside and out from being in the dusty field.

I slept only three hours the night before the eclipse in an over-priced motel room.

The Ugly

Organizers said that there were about 100,000 people expected to show up in Madras, which is a small town of about 6,000 residents. There are three main roads out of the city, all two-lanes. It took us five hours to get to the backup on the road going north. According to Google Maps, the drive home should have taken about four hours. It took 15. After not sleeping for for over 24 hours (after three hours sleep), I pulled over and took a nap by the side of the road before I fell asleep driving. I saw taillights whenever I closed my eyes. We got home about three in the morning. The next day I was still exhausted.


Even with everything, it was amazing and so worth it.

1 comment:

  1. Sheldon, Rick and I went to Weiser, Idaho to view totality. We were lucky that the mother of our daughter-in-law lives there and we had a place to stay. There was 14 of us. Weiser was the second best place to view. One person left shortly after totality and it took him 5+ hours to return to Boise. Sorry you had a rough time returning home. It was magnificent and we all cheered and clapped when totality happened. What a wonderous view and I cannot wait until 2024!