The continental United States will have an amazing celestial show Aug. 21, a solar eclipse. Most people across the U.S., northern Mexico and Southern Canada will see a partial solar eclipse from a meager 30 percent in La Paz, Mexico, to 99 percent near the path of maximum lunar shadow, or the path of totality.
People living along a narrow band from Oregon to South Carolina may see a total solar eclipse if the skies are clear. This 65-mile-wide strip passes through 12 states, with many millions of visitors expected to join local residents for this event. Oregon is first to see the total solar eclipse and is expected to have the best prospects for clear skies, excepting the Oregon Coast. Hence, areas or cities in the Oregon path of totality will get many out-of-town, out-of-state and even out-of-country visitors.
The United States has not experienced a continent-wide total solar eclipse since 1918. Travel for the 1918 eclipse was daunting, so that few of the 100 million Americans were able to view it. The solar eclipse of 2017 will be vastly different form the 1918 eclipse, with about 200 million people living within a day’s drive of the path of totality. The 2017 solar eclipse may be the most watched celestial event in history.
The last total solar eclipse to be seen in the Roseburg area occurred Feb. 3, 1562. I can guess that it was probably cloudy, but if not, the local residents must have been greatly surprised when the day turned dark. The next total solar eclipse will occur June 30, 2345. Roseburg will however be in a prime spot to see a rare type of solar eclipse, the annular or “Ring of Fire” solar eclipse. Cross your fingers that we get clear skies for the Oct. 14, 2023 annular event.
Total solar eclipses are amazing celestial events. You will be told by various media outlets that the Aug. 21 eclipse will be “the greatest show on Earth,” “a once-in-a-lifetime event,” “the event of the century,” and other hype. I agree with the first claim but not with the last two. If you are willing to travel a bit, a longer-lasting and wider total solar eclipse will cross from Texas to Maine on April 8, 2024. An even longer duration total solar eclipse will cross the United States from Northern California to Florida in 2045.
We will hear adjectives like spectacular, awesome, breathtaking, amazing and more describing the Aug. 21 eclipse. I could not agree more. You do not just see a total solar eclipse. There will be hundreds or thousands of pictures to see on Aug. 22. You experience the total solar eclipse. If you are not in the path of totality, you will have a different sense of the eclipse. It will be mostly intellectual with a few moments of something happening.
For partial solar eclipse watchers, most of the overall 2 ½-hour eclipse from about 9 to 11:30 a.m. will be an interesting show, especially for astronomers. The moon will slowly and silently creep over the disk of the sun. You will be standing in the sunshine watching with your safe eclipse glasses as the moon takes a “bite” out of the sun. Your experience will be mostly cerebral, pondering the alignment of the moon, sun and Earth during the partial solar eclipse. If you have a telescope and solar filters, you may shoot a few photos to show the black circle cut from the sun.
Here in Douglas county, the “bite” will get very large with the sun shrinking to a razor thin crescent 3 or 4 percent across. The tiny crescent sun will seem to rotate from the bottom left to the top right in about 10 minutes. During this 10 minutes (from 10:12 to 10:22 a.m.), you will get a hint at totality. You will begin to see bright tiny “solar crescents” dancing on the ground in the shadows of tree leaves/branches. The sky will begin to darken a bit as if some thin clouds are covering the sun. By 10:15 a.m., the sky will be noticeably darker and the planet Venus will suddenly pop out 30 degrees above and to the right of the sun. By 10: 19 a.m., Venus will vanish and the sky will brighten. Then, the partial solar eclipse will begin to play out in reverse. This is only a faint shadow of what it is like to be in the path of totality.
Observers in the moon’s umbral shadow will have the same events unfold as with the partial eclipse but much more noticeably. Rather than the 10 minutes of something happening, the total solar eclipse observers will see and feel something unique. The pitch-black umbral shadow will be seen racing toward you at over 2,000 mph. The sky will grow very dark like a deep twilight. Winds will calm, birds will roost. Day is now night. Yet, a strange arc of bright twilight can be seen near the horizon all around you. The brightest stars and planets will pop out from the new dark sky. As the last rays of sunlight stream through the edge of the moon, totality will begin with a bright flash. This is the “diamond ring effect” followed in a second or two with twinkling lights called Bailey’s Beads. In a flash after Bailey’s Beads, the light is gone and the ghostly solar crown or corona appears with small bright reddish tongues of fire called prominences. You experience the darkness in the daytime, you see the sun with your unaided eyes and see the glowing corona.
An amazing sight. Time seems to stop. Then, the seconds race by and the process repeats in reverse. Two minute will seem like 8 seconds and you will remember those seconds as long as you live. Is it worth the fuss? I think so and you will probably agree if you are fortunate enough to look up in a clear sky for totality.