Category Archives: 2017 total solar eclipse

Our favorite astronomy events from 2017

Happy New Year from Seattle Astronomy!

As 2018 gets under way we take a look back at our five favorite stories from last year.

1. Total Solar Eclipse

Well, duh. We spent nearly two years previewing the greatest celestial observing experience one can have. We did some 28 posts and more than a dozen podcasts about the Great American Eclipse. Seattle Astronomy publisher Greg Scheiderer even appeared on KING-TV’s New Day Northwest to talk eclipses.

To top all of that preparation off, we had gorgeously perfect weather for the eclipse from our viewing point in Monmouth, Oregon at Western Oregon University. Check our dispatches from Monmouth.

2. Apollo exhibit at Museum of Flight

Used engines

To anyone who grew up obsessed with the race to the Moon in the 1960s, the Apollo exhibit that opened in May at the Museum of Flight is about the coolest thing there is after total solar eclipses. And it’s lasted more than two minutes! This is another event that came with great anticipation. Bezos Expeditions found some actual F-1 engines that rocketed Apollo missions into space. They fished them out of the Atlantic Ocean in 2013. Some were donated to the museum in 2015—a story that made our top-five list for that year!—and the exhibit was in the works for nearly a year and a half. While the engines are a commanding centerpiece of the exhibit, there’s a ton of other cool Apollo stuff there as well. Check our podcast previewing the exhibit and article about the opening.

3. Finding ET at Pacific Science Center

Mission: Find Life!The Pacific Science Center had a couple of events during 2017 that highlighted the search for extraterrestrial life. The exhibit Mission: Find Life! ran from March through September in the science center’s Portal to Current Research space. Finding life was also the subject of one of the center’s Science in the City lectures in December. UW professor Erika Harnett participated in both, and Astronomy on Tap Seattle co-founder Brett Morris spoke at the latter as well. Check our podcast with Harnett and articles about the exhibit and the lecture.

4. Astronomy on Tap Seattle

Astronomy on Tap Seattle has been putting on monthly astronomy talks for almost three years now; they debuted in March of 2015. From Bad Jimmy’s to Hilliard’s to their current home at Peddler Brewing Company, graduate students in astronomy at the University of Washington put together monthly talks by students, faculty, and visiting dignitaries. The events also include astronomy trivia, prizes, and good beer. From astronomy art to polarimetry, we got a bit of everything this year. This month’s topics and date haven’t been announced just yet, but look for them around the fourth Wednesday each month.

UPDATE: No sooner did we publish this than the word came out that the next AOT Seattle will be at Peddler Brewing on January 24. Topic: Alien Moons.

5. Kelly Beatty talks Pluto

Scheiderer and Beatty

The Seattle Astronomical Society always lands great keynote speakers for its annual banquet in January, and 2017 was no exception as Sky & Telescope magazine senior editor Kelly Beatty told the story of the history of Pluto. Though Pluto wasn’t discovered until 1930, Beatty noted that the hunt really dates back to the 18th century.

Writer and astrophotographer Robert Reeves will speak at this year’s banquet on January 28.

Up next: our favorite books and author talks of 2017!

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Planning for the 2024 total solar eclipse

Last month’s total solar eclipse was the first one I had ever seen. Like many newly minted and experienced umbraphiles alike, I’m already thinking about the next total solar eclipse to cross the United States, which will happen on April 8, 2024. It seems like a long time off, but you don’t want to be like those folks who were frantically looking for eclipse glasses the day before the event!

As I ponder the last two years of planning for 2017, I realize that the advice received in the course of the enterprise was somewhat contradictory. In summary, when preparing for a total solar eclipse, one should plan carefully and well in advance, always have a plan B, and be ready to chuck it all and just wing it in the case of bad weather or other opportunities and circumstances.

Plan ahead

Fred Espenak

Fred Espenak. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Our first tutorial in eclipse planning came from Mr. Eclipse himself, Fred Espenak, who spoke at the Seattle Astronomical Society banquet in January 2016. (Here’s our recap of that talk.) Espenak and his weather guru partner, Jay Anderson of Eclipsophile, scouted the entire path of totality for viewing and weather conditions. It was Espenak’s declaration of Madras, Oregon as having the best clear-sky prospects for eclipse day that drove thousands of people to central Oregon. My favorite remark from Espenak from that talk: “On eclipse day you don’t get climate, you get weather.” Oregon had the best odds, many of us rolled the dice on that and came out winners.

Have a plan B

For many eclipse chasers plan B amounts to watching the weather forecast in the days and weeks leading up to the eclipse and, if things look dicey, going somewhere else. Many choose their preferred viewing site based on the ability to get away. That’s one reason that Espenak viewed last month’s eclipse from Casper, Wyoming: the weather prospects there were good, and major highways running east and west along the path of totality meant a good chance to run to find a break in any clouds that might move in. The Astronomical League held its annual convention there, too.

O'Meara

Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer with Stephen O’Meara at the Seattle Astronomical Society meeting Aug. 16, 2017.

The week before the eclipse Steven O’Meara, a columnist for Astronomy magazine and an avid eclipse chaser, gave a talk to the Seattle Astronomical Society. He recounted how, as a young child, his mother showed him little eclipses reflected through the holes in their home’s window blinds.

“Partial eclipses have been dear to me ever since I was a child,” O’Meara said. He noted that a thought struck him after a recent similar presentation.

“I realized how wonderful partial eclipses are and how much more fun I have at partial eclipses, because there’s no pressure,” O’Meara said. We think he actually thrives on the pressure though, and he told a number of entertaining stories about last-ditch efforts to beat the clouds and catch at least a glimpse of an elusive eclipse. Some of the more interesting ones involved Pop Tarts and essentially hijacking a boat in Indonesia when it appeared there would be no eclipse viewing on land. He may well be the king of plan B.

My own plan

Writing the Seattle Astronomy blog and producing our podcast was my research and planning for last month’s eclipse. I’ve done 27 posts (including this one) and did 15 podcasts about the eclipse, with the subject of many being the question of why one would choose Stapleton, Nebraska or Nashville for eclipse watching over the other places in the path of totality. I learned a lot about the activities each community had planned, and what else there was to do there once an eclipse was over. With all of that information, I ended up picking Salem, Oregon. I had three reasons: proximity, population, and weather.

cloud chart

Data by NASA/GSFC. Graph courtesy Jay Anderson, Eclipsophile.com

Proximity. I reasoned that, if I lived in the Salem area, I probably would not have gone anywhere else. I’d have gone to a local park, or sat in my own back yard, to watch the eclipse. One short move may have been to get a little closer to the center line. With Salem just a four-hour drive from Seattle, this seemed a sensible option.

Population. At some point in my deliberations, I decided that I preferred a more urban setting to a rural one. It seemed that accommodations, the ability to get around, and access to stuff like food and a porta-potty might be more likely in a setting with more infrastructure.

Weather. Yes, many people would and did laugh about this. Walk up to anyone and tell them that you plan to watch a solar eclipse in western Oregon, and about 80 percent of them will immediately laugh and declare that, “It will rain.”

Looking at Anderson’s chart above of weather along the path of totality revealed a different story, however. While, statistically, the weather in Salem on August 21 of any year isn’t as good as that in Madras, it’s still pretty close, and a far sight better than just about any place east of Missouri. Salem seemed a good bet. When the date arrived and climate turned into weather, it helped that we were in the middle of the driest, clearest summer anyone can remember.

Chuck it

As I asked people along the path if accommodations were available in their town or city, most of them noted that hotels don’t even book for more than a year in advance. In fact, I heard several funny stories about innkeepers befuddled by someone wanting to book a room five years ahead of time! Naturally, when I went online to look for reservations in Salem 13 months prior to the eclipse, everything was completely sold out. Some time later I stumbled across an available motel room in Lebanon, Oregon and snapped up the reservation. I got tickets to OMSI’s eclipse event at the fairgrounds in Salem, and I was ready to go.

Back in December I published a post and podcast interviewing Elaine Cuyler of Orbit Oregon, publisher of the kids’ book The Big Eclipse. Cuyler, a former marketing director for Eola Hills Winery near Salem, was putting together the Wine Country Eclipse festival at the Polk County Fairgrounds. She invited me to speak at the festival, complete with gratis lodging in a residence hall at nearby Western Oregon University in Monmouth. It seemed like a no-brainer, and I jumped at the chance. I cancelled my motel reservation and gladly stayed in the dorms at WOU (pronounced “woo”, according to the staff.)

So, after about 20 months of planning, I ended up doing something that was only finalized about two or three weeks ahead of the eclipse. As noted in my post about eclipse weekend, it couldn’t have worked out better.

Total solar eclipse, 2024

Eclipse map 2024

Map courtesy Michael Zeiler, GreatAmericanEclipse.com

If this year’s was “The Great American Eclipse,” then some are already dubbing the 2024 event “The Great North American Eclipse.” As you can see from the map at left, this one will first hit land in Mexico, swoop up through Texas, cross the path of the 2017 eclipse in Carbondale, Illinois, and zip northeast until it crosses Maine and the maritime provinces of Canada. Thanks to Micheal Zeiler of GreatAmericanEclipse.com for the map; Zeiler was one of our interview subjects, too! Check out our post and podcast.

So, where will you be in April 2024? I’ve been looking at Jay Anderson’s weather maps already, and it seems the best weather prospects will be in Mexico, but I’m leaning toward Texas right now. I’d try to make hotel reservations, but nobody books more than a year in advance. And some cool opportunity might turn up at the last minute.

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Astro Biz: Path of Totality IPA

Many businesses, products, and places have names rooted in space and astronomy. We’re featuring one every Tuesday on Seattle Astronomy.

This week’s Astro Biz is Path of Totality IPA from Breakside Brewery in Portland, Oregon. And what else could it be, as I’m writing this less than an hour after arriving home from viewing the total solar eclipse in Monmouth, Oregon. Although the poster says it was “brewed for the city of Independence” to celebrate the eclipse, we enjoyed Path of Totality IPA in three different establishments in Monmouth, which is a mere two miles to the west.

It’s a yummy brew with an excellent name!

More info:

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Solar eclipse dispatch from Monmouth–Totality!

My biggest concern about viewing today’s total solar eclipse was that, after doing 14 podcasts and at least 25 blog posts about the event over the last 19 months, it would be underwhelming.

Greg

Greg Scheiderer of Seattle Astronomy snapped a selfie while watching the eclipse from Western Oregon University.

Silly me.

I’ve seen Saturn hundreds—thousands?—of times, but I still do a little gasp whenever I get the planet into the field of view of my telescope. There it is! Crank that up about a thousand times, and that’s what I felt when I saw first contact of my very first total solar eclipse from “The Grove” at Western Oregon University in Monmouth, Oregon, and again when the diamond ring went away and the whole campus went dark as if a light switch had been thrown, revealing the Sun’s shimmering white corona for a glorious two minutes.

The intervening hour and 13 minutes (or so) between the onset of the eclipse and totality offered plenty of chances to observe interesting natural phenomena, tricks of light, and human behavior. The university had a number of semi-official viewing spots, on the football stadium and other athletic fields, mostly. But some hundred of us chose The Grove, with nice trees providing shade from the diminishing summer Sun, and also leaving easy access back into the lawn for a view of the progress of the eclipse.

My favorite eclipse watcher, or non-watcher, perhaps, was a young lad of seven or eight who kept stomping off from his family group muttering, “It’s not that impressive.” Some time into the eclipse another kid was heard informing the elders that he needed a bio break. Mom loudly exclaimed, in order to make the point emphatically, that you shouldn’t poop during an eclipse. She soon relented and escorted the kid to the loo, no doubt considering the consequences. Many of the kids in attendance—one of the weekend activities was a camp for children—seemed far more interested in play than in some dumb-ass sky thing the adults wanted to see. Where are the water-powered rockets when you need them?! Other kids were totally along for the ride, watching through their eclipse glasses or goggles and declaring, “It’s awesome.”

Mini eclipses

Mini eclipses project through oak leaves during the eclipse.

We saw the little mini eclipses projected through the gaps between oak leaves in The Grove. We noticed bright Venus popping out in splendor several minutes—an hour? Time moves at a different pace during an eclipse—before totality. It got considerably cooler. I kept looking west for a glimpse of the Moon’s shadow. I noticed that deep, twilight purple of dusk relatively high in the sky; was that the umbra, above us but not yet reaching ground? I’m not sure. Then—BAM! Just like that it was dark and there was that amazing corona. I’ve since seen social media posts from people who took photos, and the corona looks round in those images. I saw almost wing-like structure reaching out a couple of solar diameters on either side. The eye and the camera see very different things. As a total solar eclipse newbie, I took the advice of many: Don’t try to photograph totality; just watch and enjoy.

I was expecting to see more stars, but they didn’t really appear. I thought I saw Mars, just for a moment or two, but it was pretty close to the Sun, and it might have been a trick of the light. I couldn’t spot Mercury. I really just kept going back to the corona. I can see all of that other stuff most any time. I also didn’t catch any animal behavior. There are a few squirrels on campus, but I didn’t spot any of them going eclipse crazy.

Then, in what seemed like way less than the two minutes we were promised, the Sun came back out from the other side of the Moon. The glasses went back on, for most. Others began to pack up and head on their way. Said one kid: “Can we go play now.” But I can’t help thinking that the “It’s not that impressive” kid will wind up with a Ph.D. in astronomy. Old Sol works in mysterious ways. We stayed and watched as the Moon slowly slipped away, and in another hour the eclipse was really over. The light and warmth came back and everything was as it was, even though everything had changed. I will always remember this amazing natural spectacle, watched from a lawn at Western Oregon University.

I can’t wait for the next one, and already have a great plan for the eclipse of 2024.

Scenes from around Monmouth–Total Solar Eclipse 2017

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Solar eclipse dispatch from Monmouth

Seattle Astronomy is in Monmouth, Oregon for the total solar eclipse. As of this writing, just after 1 p.m. on eclipse eve, the weather outlook is highly optimistic for eclipse viewing from Salem and environs. We noted that Cliff Mass named Salem number one in a Thursday article about eclipse weather, and stuck with that analysis in updates on Friday and Sunday.

MonmouthWe arrived in Monmouth at just after noon on Saturday, August 19, having set out from West Seattle at 8:04 a.m. after breakfast at Luna Park Café. Our goal: get to Salem ahead of the slackers, though it has been suggested that we actually ARE the slackers! Traffic problems were nil on Saturday morning. We took the I-205 route to avoid downtown Portland, and the only traffic delay we encountered on the trip south was a brief slowdown right near the PDX airport.

We’ve seen several reports of clear sailing on the highways from others headed into the path of totality, both here in the I-5 corridor and also in Eastern Oregon. It made us wonder if predictions of eclipse-ageddon traffic were merely ways to discourage the faint of heart from making the trip. This morning we’ve also seen reports that officials are now worried that previous light traffic means a super crush later today and on eclipse morning. We shall see; a big part of the job of “officials” is to worry, and we had some discussion of this in our blog and podcast with Jim Todd of OMSI last year. In any event, we’re here early and enjoying this college town.

Path of Totality IPAWe’re in Monmouth because we’re bunking at Western Oregon University. Greg is giving a talk about chasing the Sun at 3 p.m. today, Sunday, at the Wine Country Eclipse event. We’ll also be watching the eclipse there on Monday morning. Our original plan was to be at the OMSI event at Salem Fairgrounds until Orbit Oregon offered us the speaking gig at the festival.

A few local businesses are embracing the eclipse to a degree. Portland-based Breakside Brewery has created Path of Totality IPA, and several pubs in town are carrying the eclipse-themed brew. (We’ve been doing exhaustive research on this.) As we enjoyed a burger and a couple of pints over lunch at Main St. Pub & Eatery in downtown Monmouth, there was just a trickle of foot and vehicle traffic in mid-afternoon.

Monmouth would qualify as a small town at population just over ten thousand. We’ve seen no sign yet that the town and its infrastructure will be over-run with eclipse-watchers, though our wait at breakfast was a bit long this morning and many of the folks at J’s Café were wearing eclipse t-shirts of various designs, a sure mark of a tourist. We probably made the wait a bit longer for locals coming in for their Sunday breakfast! There are definitely more people around that there were on Saturday, but it’s hardly a crunch.

Even Monmouth City Hall is getting into the act; they’re not opening until 1 p.m. on Monday so that everyone can enjoy the eclipse.

We hope you do, too! Tell us about your eclipse destination in the comments!

 

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Late-breaking eclipse and lodging opportunities in Oregon

There are people who have been planning for the August 21 total solar eclipse for 20 years or more. If you’re more of a procrastinator, there are still outstanding opportunities popping up for us ten days ahead of the much-awaited event.

Two of these are available from our friends at Orbit Oregon, the Portland-based publisher of The Big Eclipse and The Big Eclipse Activity Book, a great pair of eclipse guides for kids and families. (Check our article and podcast about The Big Eclipse.)

The Big Eclipse Family Weekend will happen August 19–21 at Western Oregon University in Monmouth. In addition to viewing of the eclipse on Monday, August 21, the camp includes lodging and meals, a t-shirt, eclipse glasses, and copies of the book and activity book. The camp is best recommended for kids ages 5–12 and their families, and will include hands-on activities related to eclipses and space science.

Check out the website for tickets and more information.

The other event is a little more adult-oriented. The Wine Country Eclipse is a three-day music and wine festival that will take place at the Polk County Fairgrounds in Rickreall, Oregon. It is a benefit for Solar Oregon, a not-for-profit organization bringing solar energy to the state.

The best news for those in need of lodging is that a festival ticket can include a room at Western Oregon University or tent or RV camping accommodations at the festival site. Check the website for tickets and more information.

Planned activities include:

  • Live music all three days
  • A square dance lesson on Saturday
  • A sing-along to eclipse tunes on Sunday
  • Wine and spirits tastings
  • The Totality Tent – a 21-and-over wine garden near the concert stage featuring wine, beer, and special cocktails including Totality Punch, Sungria and Moonaritas
  • Local artisan fare and crafts for sale
  • Displays featuring solar and renewable energy
  • Educational seminars about wine, astronomy, and eclipse photography

That last item is especially exciting because it includes a talk titled “Get Offa My Cloud: Adventures in Seeking a Glimpse of Old Sol,” by Seattle Astronomy’s Greg Scheiderer. You don’t want to miss that!

As with all things eclipse related, tickets for these events are likely to be snapped up quickly, so hurry!

 

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We were on KING TV this morning talking solar eclipses

Seattle Astronomy‘s Greg Scheiderer was on the KING 5 television program New Day Northwest today for a segment about viewing solar eclipses! It was a fun time, and an enthusiastic studio audience had lots of questions after the recording. They just about had to drag me off in order to record the next segment!

Alas, fame is fleeting—they spelled my name wrong in the graphics on the program. That’s not what George M. Cohan (or maybe Oscar Wilde) suggested.

If you missed it, the video is below.

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