About a month before we left we were chatting with a friend, Sharon Patel, at school about our itinerary and she said that she and her husband Pocky were also going to be in Oregon in August to see the eclipse.”What eclipse?” we asked.
We did a bit of research and discovered that on the day of the eclipse, 21st August, by complete coincidence, we were booked into a hotel which was only 2 hours drive up the coast from where the centre line of the eclipse met the mainland. From that point on, when asked what I was looking forward to the most during our year long trip, I answered “The eclipse”.
A total solar eclipse is when the moon passes directly between the earth and the sun. Due to the relative sizes and distances from Earth, the moon appears slightly larger than the sun. Therefore, when it passes between the earth and the sun there is a period of time (in this case a maximum of about 2 1/2 minutes) when the sun is completely blocked out by the moon. This is known as a total solar eclipse, as opposed to a partial solar eclipse, where some, but not all of the sun is obscured.
It happens approximately every year and a half somewhere on earth but these are often in the middle of an ocean or somewhere equally inaccessible. To give you an idea of how rare these occurrences are in any given location, the next total solar eclipse to cross the UK is on 23rd September 2090. If it is cloudy the experience is greatly diminished due to being unable to see the sun (but it still goes dark). In order to look at the sun without damaging your eyes, you need eclipse glasses which are very dark sunglasses.
This eclipse was big news in the US. The path of the eclipse ran from Oregon on the west coast right across America to South Carolina on the east coast. along this line there is a 60 mile wide zone where a total (as opposed to a partial) eclipse can be seen. This is the known as the zone of totality. It dominated news reports and everyone was warned that millions of people were going to be in their cars travelling to see it. There were warnings that anyone travelling must take enough food, water, fuel and blankets because of the inevitable armageddon-like gridlock.
The weather on this part of the Oregon coast is usually cloudy in the morning, but this often burns off sometime before midday. There is a mountain range running parallel to the coast, called the Cascades and inland from there is usually clear skies, so all the serious eclipse hunters were inland and had been in place for a few days. The drive for us to this area was about 7 hours, along the roads that were likely to be the busiest, so we decided to stick to the coast and risk the clouds.
The eclipse was going to start at about 9.15 am with totality reached about an hour later. We set the alarm for for 4.30am and were on the road before 5.00 in pitch black. It was an adventure into the unknown. As we got nearer we still hadn’t encountered any traffic other that the odd car. We were hoping to get to Lincoln Beach which was just our side (north) of the centreline before 10.00am. As we pulled into Lincoln Beach at 7.00am, it was clear that the fear of traffic was ever so slightly overblown. We thought that we might as well carry on to the centreline of totality, which was in a small coastal town called Depoe Bay. Between Lincoln Beach and Depoe Bay we saw a few signs out advertising eclipse parking for $100, and knew we were getting close. We pulled into Depoe Bay at about 7.15…. and parked in an empty public car park in the centre of town! There were a few people milling around but really not the expected crowds.
The only problem was the fog. There was thick fog and visibility was down to about 100m. The sun was not yet up but if it had been you definitely wouldn’t have been able to see it. At about 8.00 we were considering jumping back in the car to try to get to some higher ground, when the fog started clearing, and we decided to stay put.
We had been given 5 sets of eclipse glasses a couple of days earlier in Cannon Beach, by Guido, a friendly eclipse chaser who had come from Germany and brought some spares just in case.
At about 9.15 we saw the first “bite” out of the sun.
It was pretty cool. Over the next hour, the bite got bigger and the temperature started dropping and the sea fog rolled back in. We had to get blankets and jackets from the car. Fortunately, we were looking east through clearer skies and so the fog didn’t affect our view. When almost all of the sun was obscured, and just a thin sliver remained, the light was like nothing I had ever seen before. It was like sunset but because the sun was high in the sky rather than low, it was a weird special effect from mother nature.
At 10.15, the sun was fully obscured and everyone whooped and hollered and whipped off their eclipse glasses.
I would describe myself as someone who is not easily impressed. In fact I can be one of those annoying, been there, done that, type of people, but this was on another level. I was crying my eyes out at the most amazing, beautiful thing I had seen in my life. The day turned to night and we got to see the “corona” for a couple of minutes. This is when the moon completely obscures the sun, but you can still see the aura of plasma that surround the sun making a beautiful crown which is safe to look at with the naked eye.
My favourite part of the whole show was at the end of totality when the first fantastically bright rays of sun appear. This is known as the “diamond ring”because that is what it looks like. The corona is the ring, and the first bright rays are the diamond.
I completely get why people chase around the world to see these things, there really is nothing like it. Awesome is a word that is well over-used but this truly is awesome.
The following day we met our friends Sharon and Pocky with their two children Mia and Ari for lunch and had a great couple of hours with them. They had been inland with the professionals and also had a great experience. Pocky was well prepared and had a filter for his camera which enabled him to take the photos I have put up here. Thanks for that mate.
I heard an expert on the radio describe the difference between a total solar eclipse and a partial one where 99% of the sun is obscured:
“If the partial eclipse is looking at a map of Paris, then the total eclipse is boating down the Seine with the one you love”.
I agree. If theres a partial eclipse in your home town ,then get some glasses and go outside to look at it. But if theres a total eclipse, book your next holiday around it.
The next one is in Chile and Argentina on 2nd July 2019