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Choosing A Place To Watch An Eclipse

The Dark Side Of The Moon......and how to find it!

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The T shirts, fridge magnets and solar glasses are all ready to go, but are you?

It's 10:15 am on the coast of Oregon, and the moon's shadow races across the Pacific. "The Great American Solar Eclipse" has begun its journey across the Continental U.S.A., leaving in its path a bit of history and a lot of amazed people.

Where will you be? How do you do this?

I have heard many locals say, "Bend has a 99.7 percent partial eclipse, that's good enough for me!"

As part of a large, international eclipse-chasing group for the last few decades, this breaks my heart, because you only need to drive 45 miles north to fully experience this once-in-a lifetime opportunity.

If our group had a mission statement, it would be, "On the line! Further! More adventure!" So our secret viewing location is special and well earned. We searched 1,200 miles of the high desert to find it, documenting in detail the directions and services along the way. And this was a relatively easy task, comparatively.

In March 2006 in Egypt, we had to outrun and outsmart the former dictator, President Mubarak, Prince Charles, Camilla and other dignitaries to get to our viewing location in the Sahara near the Libyan border. Fortunately, as far as I know, no dictators are coming to Oregon!

If you want to see the main event, you must know - first and foremost - exactly where you are, and that should be within the shadow of the moon cast by the sun, called the umbra. If you are anywhere outside this zone, you will see only a partial eclipse. This band of shadow will be approximately 65 miles wide, and the further you go from the center of that umbra, the shorter the eclipse lasts. The difference between experiencing a partial versus a total eclipse is absolute: totality holds the gems.

At the very edge of the umbra, the total eclipse will last for only a fraction of a second, yet not so far away - on the centerline - it will last for two minutes or more. So, getting closer to the centerline will drastically increase the duration. Going west to east across the country, the total eclipse also increases in duration, until it peaks in Southern Illinois with two minutes and 40.2 seconds of totality. In Oregon, we can elongate the total eclipse experience by a full second by traveling another 60 miles or so to the east.

The ideal location is somewhere with no clouds; which is why aficionados are called Eclipse Chasers; if it's cloudy, you chase. So, if possible, pick a location with unimpeded views, especially if the eclipse is very early or late in the day, because when the eclipse happens low on the horizon, topography comes into play. From a high spot, you'll also have the opportunity to see the shadow as it races toward you at the breakneck speed of about 1,500 mph, which is faster than you can blink.

It takes time and research to come up with a good viewing location, and that effort can reap rewards. The NASA eclipse website offers an interactive map with the eclipse path superimposed on it. This gives you the exact parameters of the shadow, it highlights both the centerline and edges of the umbra, and it tells you exactly when the eclipse will start and end in a particular location. You can also download the Solar Eclipse Timer app for your phone to find out how long the eclipse will last where you are currently standing.

The Great American Eclipse will include challenges in Central and Eastern Oregon, with the media predicting huge traffic jams and general shortages of supplies. If you are heading to Madras or the John Day area, these will probably be the most heavily congested, so plan to arrive early and leave late, and be prepared to spend a lot of time in traffic. And most importantly, do not park your vehicle on the tinder dry grass and vegetation on the roadside, which can easily spark a fire.

Should you decide to journey to the centerline and find yourself hooked, you'll be pleased to know there is another another total solar eclipse crossing Mexico and the southern and midwestern United States on April 8, 2024. Or, if you're willing to make a longer trip, you can see the July 2, 2019 total eclipse in the South Pacific, Chile or Argentina.

It's 4:06pm, on Aug. 21. Faces gaze upward, and a shadow races across the South Carolina coast. The Great American Eclipse has cut its swathe across the nation for the first time since 1918. In its wake are millions of smiles, high fives, and congratulations for being in the right place when the sky went dark in the daytime.

Enjoy, tread lightly, and we'll see you on the dark side of the moon!


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