Tag Archives: solar eclipse

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 Eclipse.com.

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:

Total solar eclipse 2017 and aliens in western Kentucky

The point of greatest eclipse for the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017 is in Hopkinsville, Kentucky. That fact caused Cheryl Cook’s telephone to start ringing ten years ago. Cook is the executive director of the Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

Eclipse Hopkinsville“It’s just going to be huge,” Cook said. “We felt like this is a gift given to us, because we’ll have, from what we’ve been told, so many people coming to our community, and it’s our time to really show off what we do best.”

Oddly enough, Hopkinsville was the site of another interesting event on August 21 in 1955, when there was a reported close encounter with a UFO and aliens.

“When we found out the eclipse is going to be on the same day, is that not kind of eerie in a little way?” Cook asked. “I like to laugh and say that they came early to pick out their spot to watch the eclipse.”

Extraterrestrials and other visitors to Hopkinsville next August will be able to enjoy the annual Little Green Men Days festival to celebrate the UFO encounter. In addition to the eclipse, Cook says the area will have its annual Summer Salute festival and Cattleman’s Rodeo on eclipse weekend, area distilleries will be doing special bottlings, and music festivals will abound.

“There should be something for everyone,” Cook said.

WKU out on the edge

About 55 miles to the east of Hopkinsville, Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green is also making plans. Gordon Emslie, a professor of physics and astronomy at the university, says they expect a lot of visitors because Bowling Green is right on I-65, which will likely bring thousands of eclipse watchers in from Louisville, Indianapolis, and other points north.

Emslie said the university’s 780-acre farm on the outskirts of town will be a primary viewing spot.

Eclipse WKU“There will be some balloon launch experiments from that farm location to carry balloons with cameras up so they can take pictures of the eclipse from above the eclipse path and see the Moon’s shadow as it appears from a high altitude,” he said.

WKU will also open up its football stadium for viewing the eclipse. Emslie said they had a trial run of that in 2012 with the Venus transit. They passed out eclipse glasses and had lots of information about the event.

Citizen CATE

The university is one of the participants in Citizen CATE (Citizen Continental America Telescopic Eclipse Experiment), a project that hopes to observe and shoot video of the corona of the Sun from 60 locations across the country during the eclipse.

“Doing what I call Photoshop on steroids, you’ll be able to synthesize these images taken from across the eclipse path into a continuous movie of a solar eclipse for 90 minutes, which no one has ever seen before,” Emslie said. “It’s the first possible attempt to do this. It’s remarkable.”

Southern Illinois University is also a participant, as noted in our eclipse preview article about Carbondale, Illinois.

Why Kentucky for the eclipse?

Interestingly, Cook and Emslie have different takes on the best reasons for heading to Kentucky to see the eclipse. Cook touts Hopkinsville’s location at the point of greatest eclipse, as well as the aforementioned activities, and other attractions such as the Trail of Tears Commemorative Park. Emslie likes the notion that Bowling Green and WKU are closer to the edge of the path of totality.

“We therefore get to see the Sun not completely centrally obscured,” he explained. “The Moon is slightly to one side of the Sun’s disk. Therefore at the other side you get to see some of the near solar-surface phenomena; the chromosphere, the loops, the spicules, the prominences.”

“These can be visible to the naked eye without the glasses on during the period of totality,” Emslie added. He noted that there are different definitions of “best,” and while most everyone in the country should be able to see a partial solar eclipse in August 2017, it is worth it to find a way to see the total show.

“Until you’ve experienced a total solar eclipse, it’s just not possible to describe,” Emslie said. “The variety of experiences that happen during the brief couple of minutes of totality are so unusual.”

Room at the inn

While Emslie’s impression was that hotel rooms in Hopkinsville have been booked for some time, Cook said that there are some 10,000 rooms within an hour of the town, and many don’t make reservations for more than a year out. She added that there is a lot of camping available in the region as well.

Emslie told a story of booking a room more than a year in advance for a total eclipse near Paris in 1999. The innkeeper told him that, as the date of the eclipse approached, she was getting offers for as much as ten times the usual rate for the rooms. Emslie said that’s not unusual.

“Most communities don’t realize this will happen until it’s almost upon them, and then the pressure gets very significant to accommodate the sudden demand for accommodations, for food, and for travel,” he said.

Our podcast with Emslie and Cook:

St. Louis on the edge for 2017 total solar eclipse

From Seattle we’ll have to drive about 200 miles south to get to the edge of the path of totality for the total solar eclipse that will cross the United States on August 21, 2017. The north edge of the path will cross I-5 near Aurora, Oregon. In St. Louis, the edge of the path cuts right through town. It sounds convenient, but Don Ficken, who chairs the St. Louis Eclipse 2017 Task Force, said there are disadvantages.

St. Louis Eclipse 2017“St. Louis is, in many ways, blessed by the fact that we have an eclipse coming through at least the southern part of the city,” Ficken said. “In other ways it’s a challenge. It’s not like Nashville where it’s going through the core; it’s basically just hitting the edge of the city.”

The northern edge of the path of totality almost cuts St. Louis in half, with the south and west sides of the city being in, while the north and east sides are not. Many big attractions in St. Louis, such as the Gateway Arch, Forest Park, Busch Stadium, the Zoo, and the St. Louis Science Center all lie outside the path of totality, while those inside the path will experience a shorter eclipse of a minute or less.

“When we talk with the main core of the city, it’s kind of hard for them to get real excited when they’re really on the edge of the eclipse,” Ficken said.

Thus, for the St. Louis area, the focus of eclipse planning has been on the more rural areas that are deeper into the path of totality of the eclipse. They began their work in 2014 but really got going in earnest at a workshop last fall.

“We decided up front that we were planning to inspire—in other words get people excited about it, educate and tell them about what’s going on, and then of course connect them to the resources, but we do not want to plan any events,” Ficken said. “We’re simply trying to raise awareness and do everything we can to get the region ready.”

The task force created teams that work with the many different counties and municipalities within the eclipse path. The St. Louis Astronomical Society, of which Ficken is a member, has been doing its part. Last weekend the club had a booth, for the first time, at the Spirit of St. Louis Air Show. They’re doing other outreach in an effort to reach at least 25,000 people with information about the eclipse. Part of the outreach is linked to their library telescope program, which has made 88 scopes available for checkout from area public libraries.

“We are doing programs, working with the public in the libraries right within their communities,” Ficken said. “Not only do we explain how the telescope works, but we talk about the solar eclipse coming up.”

Their best prop is a display map of the eclipse path, which Ficken said really grabs people’s attention and interest. They get to see what is coming their way.

“We’re going to be doing a ton of outreach to raise the visibility, which will then create, we think, more pressure to actually plan actual events,” he said. The work is beginning to pay off.

Don Ficken. Photo: LinkedIn.

Don Ficken. Photo: LinkedIn.

“Particularly the rural areas are so juiced on this thing; they’re excited, I mean really excited,” Ficken said. “This is like the biggest thing that’s probably ever going to happen to some of them and they’re on the map. Particularly little towns like Festus and Perry County; Perryville is just going bonkers down there with their planning. It’s like the biggest event forever for these guys down there.”

St. Louis is a great choice as an eclipse viewing destination, according to Ficken. As a major metropolitan area, there’s a lot to do there. Come eclipse Monday, it’s an easy drive to go south or west to get deeper into the path of totality, with center-line towns just 30 to 40 minutes away.

“You’ve got plenty of time to get where you want to, get all settled in, and just have some fun,” Ficken noted. “For those who want to just make an easy trip, have a great weekend, have some fun, add a third day on to make it a three-day weekend, we’re really perfectly suited for that.”

Many towns and businesses within the eclipse path have committed to having events for the eclipse, though a significant number of them haven’t settled on the details yet. As they’re confirmed, they’ll be posted on the St. Louis Eclipse 2017 website. Ficken expects the interest to snowball.

“We’re excited, we have lots of great stuff going on, but I expect a lot more to happen as we get into fall and the media starts picking up on this,” Ficken said. “It will be crazy.”

Podcast of our interview with Don Ficken:

Oregon SolarFest making big plans for 2017 total eclipse

Madras, Oregon has won the weather jackpot for the total solar eclipse that will sweep across the United States in August 2017. As Mr. Eclipse, Fred Espenak, pointed out in a talk in Seattle in January, the town of 6,500 people in Central Oregon has, statistically, the best chances for clear skies on eclipse day of any place along the eclipse path.

Oregon SolarFest“I just don’t know that you could find a more picturesque place to view it,” said Kelly Simmelink, the organizer of the Oregon SolarFest, noting that Madras is in the high desert and is surrounded by nine volcanoes. “Our weather here from basically the middle of June on is picture perfect.”

Simmelink came up with the idea of SolarFest to make sure more people are able to catch the eclipse.

“People that are really, really true eclipse chasers started booking this stuff two years ago,” Simmelink said. “Our little city here has approximately 328 hotel rooms. Those have been off the books for quite some time.”

Local resorts are pretty well spoken for as well. Oregon SolarFest is offering the chance for RV hookups and dry camping spots on the Jefferson County Fairgrounds.

View from Madras Oregon SolarFest

Looking west towards the Cascade Range from Madras. Pictured are the Three Sisters, Broken Top. Photo: Madras Pioneer from SolarFest Facebook page.

“Those are going to be the only full hookups available within 100 miles of here,” he said. They’ll be offering rental RVs for people who don’t have their own, and “easy camping” with loaner tents, sleeping bags, coolers and the like for people who don’t have or don’t want to lug their own camping gear.

“Those are just some of the little things that we’re trying to do to ensure that everybody that does choose Madras has somewhere to go,” Simmelink said.

Many people are booking rooms in nearby towns such as Bend, which is a little south of Madras, but Simmelink says that approach carries some risk. Two-lane highways 26 and 97 intersect in downtown Madras, and with 50,000 or more visitors expected in town traffic on eclipse day is likely to be extreme.

“That 45-minute trip could very well turn into six, seven, eight, nine, ten hours on the road,” Simmelink said. It might be tough to come in from elsewhere.

“If you think you’re going to be able to just drive in day of, you’re taking your own chance,” he said. “You’ll end up on Mt. Hood and not (see) a totality.”

To make it worth the stay, Oregon SolarFest plans a true festival in Madras. In addition to camping spots, they’ll be putting on a family fun event with music and entertainment, food booths, educational outreach led by NASA, and a beer garden. Simmelink says he’s lining up scores of porta-potties and other sanitation services, too.

“We’re going out of our way to make sure that we have almost double of everything that we possibly could need to ensure that everybody that comes to this town has a fantastic time and is happy with the way things were,” he said.

When he’s not chasing down all of those details or trying to get the festival’s website fully functional, Simmelink says he gets excited thinking about the eclipse. His office and the fairgrounds are just a quarter of a mile from the center of the eclipse path.

“It’s kind of awe-inspiring,” he said. “From our location where the festival is going to be, you couldn’t be any more ground zero.”

We’ll keep you posted about Oregon SolarFest as events develop.

More info:

Podcast based on our interview with Kelly Simmelink:

Mr. Eclipse says west may be best for 2017 total solar eclipse

Fred Espenak has earned the moniker “Mr. Eclipse” though almost 46 years of observing, predicting, and chronicling solar and lunar eclipses. Espenak spoke about The Great American Total Solar Eclipse, which will cross the United States in August 2017, during his keynote talk Saturday, Jan. 30 at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society.

Fred Espenak

Fred Espenak, known as “Mr. Eclipse,” gave tips during a talk at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society for viewing the August 2017 total solar eclipse. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

Espenak retired in 2009 after a long career as the head eclipse guy at NASA, where he maintained the agency’s eclipse information pages. His photography of eclipses has appeared in numerous magazines, and he’s often tapped by the news media to provide expert commentary about eclipses. He’s had a hand in several books about the topic.

Espenak was bitten by the eclipse bug when he was in high school. He had just gotten his driver’s license and went on a 600-mile road trip to watch and photograph a total solar eclipse from Windsor, North Carolina in March 1970.

“I was overwhelmed by the experience,” Espenak said. “It was like nothing I had read in the books. The spectacle of totality just cannot easily be conveyed through books, through writing, through photographs, through video.”

The total solar eclipse that will happen on August 21, 2017 will be the first one visible from the continental United States since 1979. We’re lucky to live in the Northwest because some of the best odds for clear weather for the event are close by. That’s not the sort of sentence we write often on Seattle Astronomy.

Madras in August

“In Madras, Oregon the prospects there are 35 percent [cloudiness] from satellite data and 24 percent probability of clouds from the nearest airport,” Espenak said. “Madras is favored with probably the best long-term climate along the entire eclipse path, and that’s why a lot of people are heading in that area.”

Madras is about 45 miles north of Bend in central Oregon.

Espenak and eclipsing partner Jay Anderson have done some exhaustive analysis of the 2,500-mile path the total eclipse will take across twelve states from Lincoln City, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Anderson crunched weather data from satellite photos and airport reports and found that, in general, our chances are better out west. The midwest is prone to thunderstorms in the summer and the east coast can get clouds because of moist air from the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. But Espenak cautions about relying too heavily on history.

Where to see the eclipse

“I can’t tell you the magic place where the best weather is going to be,” he said. “All of these statistics that Jay has concocted and derived are based on climate and 20-year studies.”

“On eclipse day you don’t get climate, you get weather,” Espenak added. While he has no magic spot, Espenak plans to start his personal pursuit of the 2017 eclipse in Casper, Wyoming, which is near the center of the eclipse path and has pretty good weather prospects.

“Casper is the location where the Astronomical League will hold its 2017 annual conference, and of course that’s going to bring a lot of eclipse chasers there,” Espenak explained. “That’s also what will bring me there, the conference. But I’m not saying I’m necessarily going to watch the eclipse from Casper, because it depends on what the two-day weather forecast is before eclipse day. If the weather looks good, I’ll stay there. If not, I’m prepared to run.”

That is Espenak’s most important piece of advice. As with real estate, when it comes to total solar eclipses, location is everything.

“Mobility, mobility, mobility is the key to seeing the eclipse, especially in this day and age with the wonderful weather forecasts you can get 24 to 48 hours in advance,” he said. “The biggest thing to keep in mind is if some large frontal system is moving across the United States, because that’s going to be the exception to the rule that throws these weather statistics out the window. That’s what’s going to change everything. If there’s a big front coming through, you want to look at the forecasts and make sure that you are on the dry side and clear side of that front at your location on eclipse day.”

That might mean you have to drive hundreds of miles to get a view of the Sun on eclipse day. Espenak said just do it if you have to.

“It’s worth it to see the total eclipse,” he said. “It’s the most spectacular thing you will probably ever see with the naked eye.”

Don’t miss this eclipse

After a long drought, it’s interesting to note that another total solar eclipse will be visible from the United States in 2024. But Espenak cautioned that this is no reason to bail on next year’s event because of a cloud or two.

“You really need to take every opportunity, becuase you never know what hand you’re going to be dealt in terms of weather,” he said, noting that, even with all of the data available and his experience chasing eclipses, about a quarter to a third of the time the weather leads to disappointment.

“It’s just a fact of the game,” he said.

More resources

Books by Fred Espenak

Mr. Eclipse to keynote SAS banquet

People around the U.S. are already gearing up for what many agree is the coolest of astronomical events: a total eclipse of the Sun. The one that will happen on Aug. 21, 2017 will be the first since 1979 that will be visible from the lower 48 in the United States. Fred Espenak, known as “Mr. Eclipse,” will give a detailed preview of the eclipse at the annual banquet of the Seattle Astronomical Society at 5 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016 at the Swedish Club on Dexter Avenue North in Seattle.


Fred Espenak

If you want to know about solar eclipses, Espenak is the guy to ask. A retired NASA astrophysicist, he has seen 26 of them since his first in March of 1970, and he’s arguably the authority on the history of solar eclipses. He’s had a hand in writing The Fifty Year Canon of Solar Eclipses, 1986-2035 (Sky Pub Corp, 1987) and the Thousand Year Canon of Solar Eclipses 1501 to 2500 (Astropixels, 2014). He has contributed to three books about the upcoming 2017 event: a 2017 Eclipse Bulletin (Astropixels, 2015), Road Atlas for the Total Solar Eclipse of 2017 (Astropixels, 2015), and TOTAL Eclipse Or Bust!: A Family Road Trip (Astropixels, 2015). These last three have been recognized as hot products for 2016 by Sky & Telescope magazine. As you may have guessed, Espenak is the proprietor of Astropixels Publishing, too.

Reservations for the banquet are $45 and are available now to Seattle Astronomical Society members. Tickets for non-members will be available beginning Monday, Jan. 11 at $60. But why not join today, get the member price, save a few bucks now, and enjoy the other member benefits of SAS?

Other reading:

Partial solar eclipse seen in Seattle

The partial solar eclipse of October 23, 2014 was a highly successful skywatching event by Seattle standards. Much of the first half of the eclipse was visible as it dodged clouds around the city. I viewed it from the sidewalk in front of Seattle Astronomy world headquarters in West Seattle.

Few observers held out much hope for seeing the eclipse. The weather forecast had been for rain and clouds for much of the Northwest. In the days leading up to the eclipse area astronomy message boards carried some talk of road trips to sites with better potential for clear skies, such as Yakima or other parts of Eastern Washington, though one seasoned observer wrote, “I have no confidence in finding anywhere drivable that reliably will have clear skies.” Clearly, a man who has been through this before.

Sure enough, we awoke on the morning of the eclipse to heavy rain and solid, dark, gray cloud cover. There seemed scant likelihood we would be seeing the eclipse. But by mid-morning the rain let up, and at about 11:37 a.m. I sent out this tweet and photo:

The blue sky held for the most part, and though the exact moment that the eclipse began was obscured by a cloud, the sun was out in full glory not long into it.

Eclipse start from Seattle Astronomy HQ.

Just minutes into the partial solar eclipse of Oct. 23, 2014. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

It didn’t last long. Not more than 15 minutes later a robust thunderstorm, including lots of hail, blew through the area, obscured the Sun from view and drove us for cover. The storm didn’t last long, but the cloud cover remained for a while. Perhaps 20 minutes to half an hour later, we spotted a patch of blue sky to the west and urged the Sun to steer into it. It did! For the next hour or so the eclipsing Sun played hide and seek with us, dodging under cloud cover and then peeking back out again.

Maximum eclipse happened right about 3 p.m., and about 15 minutes after that one of the neighbor kids who had come over for a look through the Seattle Astronomy telescope and eclipse shades spotted a flash of lightening. A rumbling thunderclap followed a few seconds later, and within a minute or two it was raining and hailing hard. Alas, we’d seen the last of the eclipse for the day. Another blue patch finally arrived right around 5 p.m., old Sol popped into view, but the disk of the new Moon had passed by and the eclipse was over.

The eclipse was especially interesting because of the giant sunspot aimed right at us. You can see it in the photos, which, I admit, aren’t that great. They were made with a little point-and-shoot camera stuck right up to the telescope eyepiece. I don’t claim any real talent for astrophotography, but like to grab a few snapshots, just to show that I was there.

Solar Eclipse

The partial solar eclipse of October 23, 2014, right around the time of maximum coverage as seen from Seattle. Photo: Greg Scheiderer.

The eclipse put me in mind of the 2012 Venus transit, when bad weather and a desire to see what was a once-in-a-lifetime event convinced me to drive as far as Corning, California for a chance to see the Sun. (Read the accounts of the trip down and the transit day elsewhere on this site.) This time I decided to stay home, and it paid off. While I didn’t see the whole eclipse, I saw enough to enjoy and appreciate this awesome spectacle, and was able to share it with some neighbors too!

I can’t help but laugh at myself because I still audibly gasp most times at the start of these sorts of events. Seeing the solar eclipse or the Venus transit begin just when the scientists said it would just amazes me, and the spectacle itself is so awesome. Even just spotting Saturn again after it has been out of view, or up too early in the morning, tickles my astronomical fancy. The universe is such an amazing place.

I’m happy that Seattle weather gave us a break and let us have a good view of a great celestial show.