An Astronomical event of a lifetime

 

On August 21, 2017, Shelly and I drove our van to central Oregon to witness a total solar eclipse. We had never seen one, as the last one visible in the contiguous U.S. was in 1979.

In other words, it was the astronomical event of a lifetime.

And it was totally worth it.


What's a total solar eclipse?

A total solar eclipse is an astronomical phenomenon when the moon completely blocks the sun, as viewed from earth. They're different from the more common lunar eclipse, where the earth casts its shadow on the moon.

Image source:  NASA.  Definitely not to scale.

Image source:  NASA.  Definitely not to scale.

The moment when the moon completely blocks the sun is called “totality.” Totality is what eclipse-chasers live for, even though it may only last a few minutes. Here’s a map from NASA showing the 2017 path of totality as a gray band:

USA_eclipse_map_NASA.jpg

After deciding to see the eclipse, we studied this map religiously to determine our optimal viewing location. We were in Vancouver, Canada at the time, so Oregon seemed like the best place.

The weather forecast indicated potential cloud cover in coastal Oregon, so we decided to drive inland near the small town of Mitchell.

 

When do tHESE happen?

Total solar eclipses occur about every 18 months, but they're usually only visible from unpopulated areas in the middle of nowhere, like the ocean. It’s rare for a total solar eclipse to be visible close to home. The 2017 eclipse was special, because the path of totality crossed several populated areas.

 

Why are total solar eclipses so cool?

First of all, witnessing a total solar eclipse feels like a supernatural experience. It’s extremely eerie (yet awe-inspiring) to see the sun covered by a black dot, in the middle of the day. The temperature dips. The horizon dims. Viewers scream and cheer.

In about 2 minutes, the show's over. The moon moves out of the sun's way, and you may never see it come back like that again.

All other types of eclipses are boring to watch in comparison. They won't make you question reality like a total eclipse will.

As others told us prior to our journey, the experience of witnessing a total eclipse is hard to convey, and it’s really something best experienced in person. Having said that, below is our video of totality!

A key goal of this trip was to capture close up footage of coronal mass ejections to be used in other projects.

 

For us, the spectacle of an eclipse is only part of its beauty.

We think eclipses are amazing because they demonstrate the power of science in revealing the natural order in the universe. We love that through empirical observations and mathematical calculations, humans can accurately predict certain events in the future. No other system or species has demonstrated this level of predictive power.

Eclipses remind us that science works and that it is the best tool we have to understand our world.

The fact that eclipse predictions culminate in such spectacular visual displays – where the sun and moon perfectly align at the exact time and place of prediction – is truly glorious.

 

Isn't it Weird that the Moon is exactly the right size to occlude the sun During an Eclipse?

Yes!

And if you can scientifically explain this synchronicity, you could be famous!

 

When’s the next one?

Here’s a neat map showing total solar eclipse paths from 2010 to 2035:

© The Exploratorium,  www.exploratorium.edu

© The Exploratorium, www.exploratorium.edu

 

Is it worth the effort to see a total solar eclipse?

“Totally!”

The 2017 one was our first, and we’re hooked.

We now plan to drive our van from the U.S. to Argentina to witness the 2019 eclipse.

So for us, it’s even more than an event of a lifetime.

 


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