With a rare cosmic alignment to show its face over a narrow section of approximately nine states across North America this summer, Oregon is gearing up to be one of the many areas lucky enough to witness a total solar eclipse. This eclipse, called the “Great American Total Solar Eclipse,” will pass directly over Salem and Albany on August 21 at about 10:00 a.m. with the center of its path being between the two cities. The path will also cross Lincoln City, Newport, Madras, John Day and Prairie City.
At around 239,000 miles away from Earth the moon is at just the right distance to be able to occasionally block out the sun when orbits line up correctly. On average, a few solar eclipses happen every year, however, the majority of these are partial, or annular, eclipses, meaning the sun is not fully covered. A total eclipse happens somewhere on Earth every year and a half or so, but only returns to the same place every few hundred years. The last time a total solar eclipse passed over North America was in 1979.
The earliest recorded total solar eclipse was on March 5, 1223 B.C.E., according to Live Science. In earlier times eclipses were often seen as signs of supernatural events or bad omens.
Eclipses provide scientists a chance to examine the sun and stars during the day. A total solar eclipse provides the best view of the sun’s corona, or outermost layer. Scientists can also view stars that wouldn’t normally be visible due to the sun’s light and test certain scientific theories. Part of Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity, his theory of gravitational lenses, was tested during a solar eclipse in 1919. Gravitational lensing is defined as when a large object’s gravitational field bends light rays similar to the way a lens does. This theory is tested during eclipses because it allows astronomers to measure stars with and without the sun interfering so that they can compare the difference. Most people today, however, simply see them as a rare opportunity to witness a cosmic event.
In an effort to view this astrological event, people from all over the world have been booking hotels and campgrounds near Salem and Lincoln City. An estimated one million visitors are expected to the state according to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Cities and towns that lie along the main path of the eclipse are gearing up for massive numbers by creating additional parking and preparing for big crowds in public places. Some cities are hosting events to celebrate. These include, an event at the Oregon State Fairgrounds put on by OMSI in Salem, a four day “Solarfest” in Madras and the “Global Eclipse Gathering” put on by Symbiosis Gathering in Prineville.
Though it will be outside of the main path of the eclipse, Eugene will still be a good place to view the event. In the Eugene/Springfield area 98 percent to 99 percent of the sun will be covered by the eclipse. Just like if it were 100 percent covered it will still darken the sky and lower the temperature very quickly when the moon passes in front of the sun.
The eclipse will only last for a few minutes and should not be viewed from Eugene without protective eclipse glasses. Viewers within the “path of totality” may view the eclipse only when the sun is completely covered. During that time onlookers can take off the glasses and see the outer edges of the sun in a way that many people won’t see again in their lifetimes.