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Total solar eclipse 2017 in Music City

You can’t blame people in Nashville for being excited about the total solar eclipse that will darken the city on August 21, 2017.

“The last time the path of totality crossed through town Nashville wasn’t even a thing!” laughed Derrick Rohl, manager of the Sudekum Planetarium at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville. Indeed, the last total solar eclipse there happened on July 29, 1478.

“It’s a big deal for us,” Rohl said.

Music City Solar EclipseRohl’s big role in the planetarium’s preparation for the eclipse has been the creation of an exciting new show about eclipses. Titled Eclipse: The Sun Revealed, it has been in the works for more than a year. It starts off with a look at the ways people have responded to total solar eclipses over time.

“It gives people a great look at different cultural histories, ways that different cultures have interpreted eclipses and just how they would react,” Rohl said. Eclipse lore is filled with serpents and dragons and other scary creatures eating the Sun. The show also explores the geometry of eclipses so viewers will better understand what’s happening, and takes a look back at the interesting science that has been accomplished during total solar eclipses.

Of course, it also has the obligatory lessons about how to safely view the eclipse, and Rohl says they stress that during totality, it’s OK to look up without eye protection.

“It’s one of the greatest views that nature has for us and we would hate to have anyone miss that,” Rohl said.

Eclipse: The Sun RevealedThe show closes out with a story about someone seeing a recent eclipse, “so that people can get an idea of just what a profound, impactful experience it will be,” Rohl said.

Eclipse: The Sun Revealed will premiere next weekend, January 21, exactly seven months before the total solar eclipse will hit town. Rohl said they’ve also sold it to planetariums in four other states and others are expressing interest.

Speaking of eye safety, that’s been a big investment for the Adventure Science Center, which ordered some 300,000 pairs of eclipse glasses.

“We have pallets and pallets of eclipse glasses sitting out on a loading dock now,” Rohl laughed. The glasses are earmarked for the city’s school kids, science center visitors, hotels, the convention and visitors bureau, and others. Center staff are helping teachers with lesson plans about eclipses, and are helping everyone from city officials to park rangers and bus drivers learn about the eclipse. That’s for good reason; Rohl says they’ve heard estimates that as many as two million visitors may hit Nashville for the eclipse.

Bracing for visitors

“We’re trying to prepare as many people around town as we can to be experts,” he said. “We’re trying to connect as many people as we can just to make sure that this a smooth experience for the huge amount of people that will be here to share it with us.”

In addition to the planetarium show, they’re planning an eclipse festival for the weekend before August 21. While many of the events remain tentative at this date, the festival will likely include lots of information about the eclipse, and Rohl expects it will also touch on virtual reality, robotics, and other cool topics.

“We’re not just limiting it to astronomy; we’re really expanding it to all the different science that we’d like to have people exploring and understanding and appreciating,” he said.

Other attractions of Nashville

One of the reasons that visitor estimates are so high in Nashville is that Music City is already a great tourist draw.

“Nashville is such a tourist friendly city even without an eclipse happening,” Rohl said. “While there are many other cities within the path, Nashville is a very very enticing place for people to choose.”

He expects folks from as far away as Chicago might rise in the wee hours and make the trip to Nashville for the eclipse, noting that practically everyone in the U.S. is within a day’s drive of the path of totality. While it’s a tourist town, Rohl says many Music City hotels have been booked for a long time. He’s got a spare room in his house, but it’s still up in the air who gets it.

“I think a lot of people who live in Nashville might be having long-lost relatives coming out of the woodwork,” Rohl laughed.

There are a couple of other space and astronomy attractions in the region besides the eclipse and the Adventure Science Center. Rohl suggested a visit to the Dyer Observatory, operated by Vanderbilt University in Brentwood, Tennessee, just a bit south of Nashville; and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is just a couple of hours drive to the south.

Total eclipse mania

Rohl noted that the buzz is certainly building about the eclipse. He fields several calls each day already, and expects it will only increase. Social media is helping to spread the word, something we didn’t have the last time a total solar eclipse crossed our entire country, back in 1918.

“The hype around this one really makes it so that everyone is expecting it to be the biggest astronomical event ever to happen in the United States,” Rohl said. “It’s something really exciting to look forward to, and of course Nashville is a mighty convenient place to live with that coming.”

Podcast of our interview with Derrick Rohl:

Trailer for the planetarium show Eclipse: The Sun Revealed:


Preserving the stories of Viking

Rachel Tillman has a scrapbook that is out of this world. What started out as a young girl’s effort to save a cool piece of space history has morphed into a project to preserve the artifacts of the iconic Viking program and the stories of the people who made it happen.

VMMEPPTillman is the founder, executive director, and chief curator of the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project, a Portland-based nonprofit that has a huge collection of photos, documents and artifacts from the Viking missions and aims to collect oral histories of some 10,000 people who had a hand in the project—the “Vikings,” as Tillman calls them.

Little kid heaven

Her interest in the mission started early.

“My father worked on the Viking mission,” she said. He is James E. Tillman, a professor emeritus of atmospheric sciences at the University of Washington who was a member of the Viking meteorology team.

“He is an explorer; scientists often are explorers,” Tillman said of her father. “He was so engrossed in his work that lived and breathed it. He brought it home at night.”

What he often brought home was the latest problem or design or a new photo from the lander, and he would ask the kids what they thought about it. Rachel ate it up.

Viking on Mars

One of the more famous photos in planetary exploration history: the first sent from Viking 1 shortly after it landed on Mars July 20, 1976. The original is part of the VMMEPP collection. Photo: NASA/JPL.

“I was interested from the get-go,” she said. Often she would go to her father’s office after school and soak up all of the conversations he and other scientists were having about technical matters. She’d go look it up and figure out the language, and would often make drawings about what she was learning. She made a few trips with her father to the Jet Propulsion Lab in California, and then got to go to Florida for the launches of the Viking spacecraft in 1975.

“We were down there at Cape Canaveral for the launch with Carl Sagan and Gerry Soffen and my dad and the guys from KSC,” she said. “I saw the rocket fly off.”

That’s quite a crowd for a little kid to hang out with. Rachel recalls Sagan as intense and funny, but said Soffen, the chief scientist on the Viking mission, was her hero.

“He was thoughtful, funny, very smart, absolutely wanted to know whatever it was out there to know,” she said. “He was also a magician. I’m a kid, that’s really cool!”

“The makeup of the people of the mission was amazing,” she added: Hard working, dedicated, sacrificing, funny, intelligent, grumpy, passionate—all of those things that a kid really picks up on.”

“I couldn’t have dreamed a better life than I live,” Rachel said.

They were going to melt it down

Viking was in Rachel’s DNA, but her work as a preservationist started almost as an accident.

NASA built three flight-ready Viking landers, but the first two worked and so the third—VL3—was not needed. Several groups and companies fiddled with plans to turn it into a rover, but ultimately nobody had any funding to do anything, so the lander was set aside. Then around 1979 James Tillman was looking for some used filing cabinets and found some interesting items on the NASA surplus list: his own Viking and meteorology instrument, and VL3.

VL3 at MOF

They didn’t scrap Viking Lander 3! The lander, owned by Rachel Tillman, is on exhibit at the Museum of Flight. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

“They were scrapping it,” Rachel said. “They were going to melt it down.”

She immediately said that they had to get it and save it. Her father thought it was a ridiculous idea, but she convinced him to do it anyway because she had a ready purpose for the lander.

“We’re going to put it in my school,” she told him, “and we’re going to teach kids about robotics and about Mars and about science and engineering.”

Rachel now owns the Viking lander VL3, and it actually was at her school for a while. It also was on display for some time in the electrical engineering department at the UW. For the last ten years it has been on loan to the Museum of Flight, where it is a part of the permanent exhibit Space: Exploring the New Frontier.

“That’s how my preserving began, was with the Viking Lander,” Rachel said. Though it started with a great piece of historic hardware, Rachel is now drawn to the human side.

It’s about the people

“My role as a kid who grew up with the mission is to honor the people who did it,” she said. “Everybody. Not just the rock stars.”

Greg and Viking stuff

The author in front of information boards the Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project uses at outreach events. The box my arm is resting on contains James Tillman’s Mars meteorology instrument. Photo: Rachel Tillman.

“Every Viking represents a child today that may want to do something like what they did,” Rachel added. “They don’t have to be the mission director, they don’t have to be the principal investigator of a science instrument, they don’t even have to be the lead engineer.”

So many other people had important functions from keeping travel schedules to crunching numbers to designing small but important components of the landers.

“All of these people are so critically important to the mission, and 95 percent of them were forgotten,” Rachel said. “That’s my job: preserve the history and the individuals; not just the timeline events, but the people who did them. That’s what this is all about.”

The Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project was founded in 2008, but only really started doing any outreach in the last year. It’s been mostly underground work as Rachel met and interviewed as many of the Vikings as possible. She thought it was important to do some public events this year, the 40th anniversary of the Vikings’ landings on Mars. They held an open event in Denver—the landers were built there by Martin Marietta, which is now Lockheed Martin. NASA also held some events at Langley and at JPL, and the project held three “Science Pub” talks last month through the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

The future of VMMEPP

To date the project has run mostly through donations from James and Rachel Tillman, some of the Vikings, and a few others, but in the next year or so they will be doing some more serious fundraising.

“Our plan is to create a trust fund around all of the artifacts of Viking so they can’t be given away or sold,” Rachel said. “As we get new donations they will stay in this trust.”

She said the fund will help with management of the artifacts as well as preservation. Then in the next year or two they plan to issue a request for proposals from institutions and organizations that would like to host the Viking artifacts.

“They’ll have to meet the requirements that we set for care of the artifacts and for creating access to the artifacts for the public, because that’s critically important,” Rachel said.

In the meantime, the project has established an online museum, where you can go page through raw documents from the Viking missions. The project website is a treasure trove of photos and facts and stories about the Viking missions.

Rachel plans an outreach event at the Hillsdale Library in Portland for December 20, but then will probably be mostly invisible for a little while.

“Doing the oral history interviews, creating access, and protecting the artifacts, those our our three really big pushes.”

It’s a fascinating and worthy cause. If you would like to help with the preservation effort, you can donate to the project online through Facebook (through December 13) or Amazon Smile, or simply send a check to:

Viking Mars Missions Education and Preservation Project
5331 SW Macadam #258-504
Portland, OR 97239

Podcast of our interview with Rachel Tillman:


Reaching kids with “The Big Eclipse”

Those who are convinced that the stars do not affect our lives might wish to consider the story of Elaine Cuyler. Up until recently, Cuyler was minding her own business and working as marketing manager for Eola Hills Wine Cellars just west of Salem, Oregon.

“I never dreamed I’d be working on a kids’ book, let along one on eclipses,” Cuyler said. But that’s exactly what happened. When she learned that the total solar eclipse on August 21, 2017 will cross right over the vineyard, she decided an eclipse-viewing event would be a great way to attract visitors to the winery. As she researched the eclipse, it occurred to Cuyler that kids would really enjoy viewing a total solar eclipse.

“There was really no-one else talking to kids about the eclipse at the time,” she said. Out of that realization Orbit Oregon was born, and Cuyler became its chief eclipse officer. She teamed up with Nancy Coffelt, a well-known author and illustrator from Oregon, to create the book The Big Eclipse (Orbit Oregon, 2016).

“Although I had this concept in mind, it’s really Nancy’s drawings that brought it to life,” Cuyler noted. They also created a kids’ activity book; you can read our review of both, posted last month. Cuyler said there are a couple of purposes behind The Big Eclipse.

“First, I thought it was a great opportunity for kids to learn about astronomy and science and see something really cool,” she said. Secondly, she noted that adults often don’t know what’s going on, either. Her mother was a teacher in Portland during the 1979 total solar eclipse; they were told not to look up, and broadcasters ran public service announcements warning of the dangers of looking at the Sun. While it’s true that proper eye protection is needed to look at the partial phase of a solar eclipse, the warnings amounted to a missed opportunity.

“The concept of a solar eclipse is something that a lot of people aren’t familiar with,” Cuyler said. “That’s why there’s a lot of information [in the book] for parents, too, because they need to learn about it just as much as the kids.”

Providing inspiration

Ultimately, though, it all comes back to the kids.

“We felt that as soon as you can get kids interested in science the better,” Cuyler explained. “Maybe they’re not going to want to sit and listen to a lecture, but they do like crafts, they all know about the Sun, the Moon, and the stars. To get kids thinking about the world around them and how it functions, that’s really the start of getting them to think about why the world works the way it does, and you use science to explain that.”

As Cuyler and Coffelt worked on The Big Eclipse their research included talks with astronomers and folks from NASA who looked at their material. They also spoke with many people who had seen total solar eclipses, including one couple who had viewed 15 of them.

Greg and Elaine

Seattle Astronomy writer Greg Scheiderer, Orbit Oregon’s Elaine Cuyler, and The Big Eclipse. We thought it was fun to get a selfie in front of a sign that reads “Choose your own adventure.”

“Their feedback was so great because they shared photos with us and video footage, they told us about the different things that happen,” Cuyler said. “Talking with people who’d actually been through these was invaluable.”

They’ve already test-driven the book in school classrooms, and the kids seem to enjoy it, especially the part where they get to create and make a drawing of their own eclipse myths, just as ancient civilizations tried to explain this celestial phenomenon. Cuyler said the kids are creative and funny with their stories. Her own eclipse myth is a little more figurative.

“It would probably be the book completely eclipsing everything else in my life!” she laughed.

It’s a lot of work getting a book out there. The Big Eclipse is available on the Orbit Oregon website (which also features eclipse glasses and viewers) and, and it is being carried by a growing number of retailers. Cuyler is busy trying to get it into libraries, museums, schools, and summer reading programs, too.

What’s next?

As for the future of Orbit Oregon, Cuyler said The Big Eclipse is really all about the 2017 total solar eclipse, so the book sort of expires after next August 21. But she and Coffelt are considering other books, including volumes about solar eclipses in general, astronomy, and other science topics.

“We had so much fun doing this and we met so many great people that we may extend that,” Cuyler said. “Right now, we’re just focused on the eclipse.”

And on the kids. Cuyler hopes The Big Eclipse gets kids, especially girls, interested in science. When you mix in art and literature, you can grab their interest early.

“If you’re looking at science from an art perspective and crafts activities you can really start young,” Cuyler said. “It appeals to kids, and they’re learning while they’re enjoying the little story that they’re reading.”

Out of that story, and out of seeing a total solar eclipse, can come inspiration. They’ve heard many tales of science teachers who started on their career path when they saw an eclipse as a child.

“That’s what we’re going after, those young kids that might be inspired,” Cuyler said. “That’s really our mission, is to get kids to understand what they’re seeing, learn from it, and then be awed by this amazing spectacle.”

“Hopefully a new generation of science teachers will come out of it.”


Podcast of our interview with Elaine Cuyler:

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Mapping the 2017 total solar eclipse with Michael Zeiler

If you’ve been thinking about where to go to see the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017, you have more than likely come across the work of Michael Zeiler. Zeiler is the proprietor of the website Great American He has been an astronomy nut and eclipse chaser for many years, but just started making solar eclipse maps a few years ago.

Zeiler saw his first total solar eclipse from Baja, California in 1991 and was smitten.

Michael Zeiler

Michael Zeiler is the proprietor of the websites and Photo:

“It just was an amazing experience to see the eclipse hanging high in the sky with the blackest black you could see where the Moon is, and the shimmering corona, the most beautiful object in the sky that you never see in your life except for the few precious moments of totality,” Zeiler said.

“I was hooked from that point on,” he added.

Zeiler has used Fred Espenak’s eclipse maps ever since. In fact, back in 1991 he’d just purchased Espenak’s book Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses, and noted the date of the 2017 eclipse 26 years in advance!

Making eclipse maps

Zeiler practically fell into the business of making eclipse maps back in 2009. He booked passage on a ship for a total solar eclipse in the Pacific Ocean in July of that year. The cruise advertised that it would sail to the point of greatest eclipse. He found that Espenak’s map didn’t have a key piece of information that he needed to know if that was true.

“For a land-based eclipse, it’s straightforward, because you see the road network, you see the cities and the roads and the other geographic features so that you can place yourself on the map,” Zeiler said. “But for an eclipse at sea, there’s no real geographic reference around you, so if you have a GPS receiver, what you really need is lines of latitude and longitude drawn on the map.”

gaeclipseZeiler, who works for the geographic information system software company Esri, decided to create it himself.

“I had the interest and the skill set so I made my own maps for this cruise,” he said. “I made a large map, laminated it, brought it on board the ship, taped it on one of the walls, and over a thousand eclipse chasers were on that cruise. That map was a smash hit.”

People encouraged him to make more, so he launched the website late in 2009. The site became pretty popular. On May 20, 2012, the date of an annular solar eclipse visible from the American southwest, the site had a quarter million unique visitors and one million page views.

“I was stunned by that,” Zeiler said. “I didn’t expect that kind of response.”

It was at that moment that it struck him that the 2017 total solar eclipse was going to be huge. He snagged the URL the very next day, launched the site, and has been working on it ever since.

“We constantly get emails or phone calls from people who are just jazzed about the eclipse and excited and wanting to learn more,” Zeiler said. “It’s a real thrill to participate in that.”

Vintage eclipse maps

Zeiler is a collector of vintage solar eclipse maps, and has images of some of them on the Eclipse-Maps website. His favorite era for eclipse mapping is the early 18th century, when the maps were not only gorgeous but amazingly accurate.

Casper eclipse map

Casper, Wyoming eclipse map courtesy

“One of my key goals in making eclipse maps is to bring the artistry back into eclipse cartography, so I intentionally try and make the maps expressive, communicative, and just beautiful things to look at,” he said.

The man who has mapped the entirety of the 2017 total solar eclipse is headed to Casper, Wyoming as the starting point for his eclipse chase next summer. Zeiler said he considers three factors in making that decision: weather, mobility, and duration of the eclipse. He said the climate in Casper is good, and there are highways running east and west of town that pretty much hug the eclipse center line.

“All experienced eclipse chasers that I know are headed west for the weather, and we’re sacrificing ten or twenty seconds of maximum eclipse to get the great weather odds,” he said. The Astronomical League has chosen Casper for its annual conference in August for the same reasons. Catch our previous article and podcast about eclipse viewing in Casper.

Get eclipse stuff includes tons of information, maps, and a history of solar eclipses, plus a great selection of eclipse swag. You can buy your eclipse glasses there. Zeiler has also written a 44-page book, See the Great American Eclipse of August 21, 2017, that aims to answer all the questions people might have about the eclipse. The book includes two pairs of eclipse glasses.

Zeiler does it all with excitement about sharing the eclipse with people.

“This will be the most fantastic astronomy event in decades for this country,” he said. “It’s going to create a new generation of people that appreciate the beauty and the majesty and the science of our universe, and many people will become newly formed eclipse chasers.”


Podcast of our conversation with Michael Zeiler:


Astronomy tourism in Wisconsin

Mention Wisconsin to someone and their first thought might have something to do with cheese, bratwurst, or the Green Bay Packers. I’d suggest adding stargazing to the list after learning of some great resources during a recent trip to Milwaukee. I paid a visit to the Milwaukee Public Museum, where the The Daniel M. Soref National Geographic Dome Theater & Planetarium has just been upgraded to a Digistar 6 computer projection system.

Cool planetarium shows

I saw the museum’s planetarium show titled, “Did An Asteroid Really Kill the Dinosaurs?” It was a visually stunning show that left one feeling that T-Rex and the killer asteroid were actually in the room.

Soref Theater and Planetarium“We produced that, we wrote it, and put it up on the dome, and that’s because we had a big dinosaur exhibit,” explained Bob Bonadurer, director of the theater and planetarium, who added that they create many of their own original programs. He noted that the answer to the question in the show’s title is yes—for now.

“There’s lot of debate about volcanic eruptions possibly contributing to the death of the dinosaurs,” Bonadurer said. “Science always changes with new evidence, and we point that out at the end of the show.”

“Did An Asteroid Really Kill the Dinosaurs?” has since closed, but the planetarium is running two other astronomy-related shows along with its staple “Wisconsin Stargazing,” which looks at what’s up in the sky each month.

Bonadurer said its not all that common to find a planetarium that also has 2D and 3D movies.

“A lot of planetariums stand alone,” he noted. “Our planetarium is part of the big dome theater.”

The recent upgrade has brought even brighter, sharper resolution to the screen.

“With the astronomy software we’ll be able to take the audience on much more engaging trips throughout the cosmos,” Bonadurer said.

Stargazing in Wisconsin

Wisconsin StargazingMilwaukee and Wisconsin have active amateur astronomy communities. There are a half dozen astronomy clubs in the greater Milwaukee area, and the Astronomical League lists 14 affiliated clubs in the state.

“Those astronomy clubs are great to work with,” Bonadurer said. “They help us out with events such as eclipses, and, for example, the Mercury transit back in May.”

As with any big city, Milwaukee has problems with light pollution, but Bonadurer said there’s plenty of good stargazing to the north of town. Newport State Park, about 90 miles north-northeast of Green Bay, is a candidate for International Dark-Sky Park status with the International Dark-Sky Association.

“Like any metro area, we tell our planetarium audiences yes, take the drive, 40-50 miles, get away from the street lights,” Bonadurer said. “It’s a tall order, but do it because it’s worth it.”

“Planetarium skies are nice, but they obviously don’t hold a candle to the real sky,” he added. “We want people to get out there under the real sky.”

Total solar eclipse

Next August 21, when a total solar eclipse crosses the United States, Milwaukee will see the Sun obscured by just 85 percent. The Milwaukee Public Museum will offer programs to help people safely view the partial eclipse in town, and is also sponsoring a five-day eclipse road trip to get people into the totality.

Bob Bonadurer

Bob Bonadurer. Photo: Twitter.

“We’ve got our hotel rooms booked as a lot of planetariums or astronomers do,” Bonadurer said. “We’re usually on the leading edge of all this in getting the public excited.”

Bonadurer, who has seen four total eclipses of the Sun, will lead the tour, which will be able to take about 110 people to the eclipse.

“This will, I hope, reignite a little passion about eclipses in America, because it’s been a long time,” he said. “It’s the first one to sweep across America in 99 years, because for the one in ’79, only a small portion of America got to see it.”

Yerkes Observatory

Astronomy buffs visiting Wisconsin will also want to check out the historic Yerkes Observatory about 50 miles southwest of Milwaukee in Williams Bay, Wisconsin. The observatory, often called the birthplace of modern astrophysics, was founded by George Ellery Hale and has been the research home of Edwin Hubble and a veritable who’s who of astronomers. Check out our article about a visit to Yerkes during the 2012 Astronomical League Conference.

Bonadurer offers this advice to stargazers in Wisconsin and everywhere:

“Keep looking up, see that eclipse,” he suggests. “Get away from the street lights and enjoy this incredible universe.”

Podcast of our conversation with Bob Bonadurer:


Gorge night sky symposium sparks good lighting conversations

A diverse group of night-sky enthusiasts, business people, lighting designers, and government officials gathered last month in Goldendale, Washington and The Dalles, Oregon for a two-day symposium for discussion of measures that might be taken to protect the supremely dark night skies in the Columbia River Gorge. While Seattle Astronomy was unable to attend because of travel, we did speak recently with symposium organizer Jonathan Lewis, who said the event was a big success because it got some great conversations started.

LEDs can be good

Goldendale Observatory

The Goldendale Observatory was one of the sites for a two-day symposium about dark skies in the Columbia River Gorge. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Notably, Lewis said that author Paul Bogard portrayed LED lighting as the enemy during his keynote talk to open the symposium, but participants were able to change some minds.

“By the end of it we realized that the LED technology has a lot of potential to make the dark skies much better if it’s done properly,” Lewis said. “That was really the goal, to get that message out.”

Lewis gave several examples of talks that were learning experiences for symposium attendees. Gary Chittim of a lighting company called PlanLED discussed human-centric lighting that takes into account our circadian rhythms and other factors. LED lighting can be turned down low in the evening and much hotter during the day to mimic the Sun.

“Our relationship with lighting can, with LEDs, mimic a more natural environment, not only at night but also during the day,” Lewis noted.

Another speaker, Rob Leonard of Echelon, demonstrated interesting possibilities for the control of LEDs to provide as much light as needed when it is needed. LEDs can be set to dim at certain hours, and to get brighter only when people move near them. There’s even an app with an emergency button that can allow a person to turn up the lights if they’re concerned they’re being stalked at night.

“Amazing sci-fi stuff that they have available right now,” Lewis said, adding that Echelon is helping to put in controlled lights in Goldendale.

Lighting the ballfield

Sports teams have been among the loudest objectors when strong lighting ordinances are suggested, but Leonard also talked about arena lighting, and said that sports stadia can now be lit more evenly with minimal glare or light trespass.

“All of those things are greatly improved with the newer LED technology that’s available, so a lot of the arguments that sports groups might have against lighting ordinances maybe will go away because of the new technology,” Lewis said.

Building political support

Most of the “right people” attended the symposium, according to Lewis, including officials from Wasco County in Oregon, city commissioners from Hood River, and representatives from Columbia Gorge Scenic Area groups. State Rep. Gina McCabe (R-Goldendale) attended and stated that the attraction of the dark skies is important for tourism in the area.

“She’s definitely a leader in the business community, and having the businesses hear what she had to say and to have that be an important part of her agenda was really important,” Lewis said. He’s hoping McCabe can help engage on some statewide issues. For example, sometimes lighting ordinances aren’t enforced adequately in smaller communities because they don’t have their own electrical inspectors and rely instead on state inspectors through the Department of Labor and Industries. State legislation could allow L&I inspectors to enforce or urge compliance with local ordinances even though they serve different jurisdictions.

“Some conversations like that were able to get started,” Lewis said.

The conversations are continuing, Lewis said. There’s some talk about creating a Gorge-wide dark sky area project, which he called, “a very exciting possibility.” There’s also a movement afoot to start collecting data about light levels in the Gorge. Lewis noted that people who wish to follow these efforts can sign up for newsletters from the Mid-Columbia Economic Development District and the Friends of the Goldendale Observatory.

If you missed the symposium as we did, you’ll find videos of the various presentations below following our podcast of our interview with Lewis.

Podcast of our interview with Jonathan Lewis about the symposium:

Videos of presentations from the dark-sky symposium:


Total solar eclipse 2017: Salem, Oregon

This is the tenth article and podcast Seattle Astronomy has done to preview possible places from which to view the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States next August 21. We’ve talked with folks from Madras, Oregon to Columbia, South Carolina and points in between. It’s time to look at the closest viewpoint for Seattle eclipse chasers: The Salem Fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon are just 219 miles from Seattle Astronomy world headquarters, and will be the site of an eclipse viewing party headed by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI.)

Good viewing in Oregon

“Oregon is really advertised as the best place to view the eclipse, and we’re expecting ten million visitors to come down to Oregon for that one-day event,” said Jim Todd, director of space science education at OMSI. “Oregon needs to be ready.”

se2017That latter is something of an understatement. Todd says they expect about ten thousand people to attend the OMSI-sponsored party at the fairgrounds, an event that has support from Rose City Astronomers in Portland, the Oregon Observatory, and NASA, among others. The party will feature science lectures, astronomy-related community groups, and entertainment, including a performance by the Portland Taiko drum ensemble.

Salem is a bit north of the center line of totality, which crosses I-5 about halfway between Oregon’s capitol city and Albany. But the total eclipse will last nearly two minutes at the fairgrounds, and Todd said there will be numerous other viewing points in and near the city, including at Willamette University and Volcano Stadium in Keiser, where the Salem-Keiser Volcanoes baseball team, a class-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants, are planning a Monday morning baseball game for next August 21 that may feature the first “eclipse delay” in the history of organized ball.

“It goes without saying: we can’t do this alone,” Todd said. “We just have to educate the public and make sure they understand what’s involved with the eclipse.”

Oregon West

Western Oregon eclipse map courtesy GreatAmerican

They’re doing that through planetarium shows, workshops, and social media to get the word out, especially about about safe viewing of the eclipse during its partial phase. They’ve also been in touch with government officials from the Oregon governor’s office on down to make sure they’re thinking ahead for eclipse day. With huge crowds expected, things could get chaotic, espeically if there are clouds around and people have to scramble to find a clear sky for the moment of the eclipse.

“It will likely be hot, it will likely be crazy as far as traffic jams. Airports, hotels, you name it,” Todd warns. “It’s going to be a crazy day. It’s going to be one of those days people are going to remember where they were on that very day when they were looking for the eclipse.”

Rural options

Todd also serves as a co-director of the annual Oregon Star Party, which has set its 2017 event for the days before, of, and after the eclipse.

“We plan to do viewing from Indian Trail Spring in the Ochoco Mountains,” he noted. The site is somewhat south of the center line of the path of totality, and will enjoy about a minute and 27 seconds of total solar eclipse.

One concern about eclipse day is that many people will simply head for similar remote areas and gridlock roads there.

Jim Todd

Jim Todd. Photo: LinkedIn.

Todd has seen one other total solar eclipse, that back in 1979. He was a senior in high school and had to wrangle his way around official authority to do it.

“My science teacher was going to keep the class inside,” he recalls with a laugh. He got permission to head to Goldendale, Washington with another family, where they escaped cloudy Portland skies—it was February—and saw the eclipse. Next year may be a bit easier.

“Fortunately for us [the eclipse is] going to be in August, when we have a great chance of clear skies,” Todd noted.

The job fits

Todd is a true space nut. Like many of us, his interest was cemented when he watched Apollo 11 land on the Moon. He taught himself space science and astronomy, then took an internship at OMSI. He never left; he’s been there 33 years.

“It’s been my way of getting close to NASA by getting close to all of the astronomical events,” he said. “It’s one of the very few jobs where the hobby has actually become the job. I was able to combine my passion with astronomy and space science with the teaching and computers and so on. It was a perfect fit.”

Portland is an astronomy city. Rose City Astronomers is one of the biggest clubs in the country. Proximity to pretty good dark, transparent skies may be one reason for that.

“Portland has a science-minded audience and they love these kind of events,” Todd said. “We like to think, too, that OMSI had a role in that.”

Tickets to the eclipse party at Salem Fairgrounds are $8 and are available now through the OMSI website.

Podcast of our interview with Jim Todd: