Though I was a little kid, I was aware of the hype in 1979. That was the last time Seattleites could view a solar eclipse. I was into astronomy, toting around a big book by Patrick Moore, called Seeing Stars. The pages included vivid photos of solar eclipses. I wanted to see one live.
I grew up in Bellevue, on a hill overlooking Lake Sammamish. Our front lawn tilted at a 40 degree angle, serving as a prime spot to stargaze. My late sister and I would lie on our backs and look up at the sky. We wished upon shooting stars. And there’s the Big Dipper, I would say. Then I’d point out others like Virgo and Ursa Major. But soon I’d run out of constellations to point out. So I’d start making up names without missing a beat. (My younger sister assumed I knew everything, and I had a reputation to uphold.)
But we never did get to experience the eclipse. It was bitterly cold and cloudy and not much of a show. I remember hearing that the next solar eclipse would occur in 2017. My jaw dropped with disgust. That seemed like forever. I would be unbelievably old by then.
Well it’s now 2017, and your unbelievably old correspondent is feeling giddy.
On August 21, millions of Americans will witness a total eclipse of the Sun. The moon will block out the morning sun, and daytime will downshift into deep twilight.
Excited at this prospect, I called up Nathan Davis last week. He’s the former soccer coach at Woodinville High School, and still teaches physics there. Like me, he’s planning for that August morning.
“Everyone gets into this from all ages because it happens during the daytime,” Davis said. “It’s a pretty unique phenomenon because everything lines up just right. And it has been [38 years] since the last one. If it was an every summer event, it wouldn’t be as exciting for everyone. But since it hasn’t happened in so long, everybody gets more excited.”
Since Seattle is in position to see a 90% solar eclipse, I asked Davis if people in Woodinville will be able to experience it without heading to other parts of the country.
“Oh absolutely,” he said. “It’s going to be really nice and a really fun one to watch. In this case we won’t have to go anywhere.”
According to NASA, the first people in North America to experience a 100% solar eclipse this time will be those on the waterfront at Government Point, Oregon, at 10:15:56.5 a.m. PDT. The center line will cross through 12 states and end up in South Carolina at 2:36 p.m. EDT.
The sky will grow dark and birds will reportedly stop chirping. The temperature will likely drop 10°–15° F.
This solar eclipse stands to be the most heavily watched event since the USA landed men on the moon in 1969. Media and social media will be going berserk, and August weather should accommodate nicely.
The massive media coverage should also dispel most misunderstandings. The annals of human history are chock full of wacky superstitions and ideas.
In Vietnam, people believed that giant frogs were devouring the sun. Nordic people thought wolves were to blame. And the ancient Chinese thought a celestial dragon was gorging on the sun. As a matter of fact, the Chinese word of an eclipse, chih or shih, means to eat.
For centuries, people across the world have banged pots and pans while shouting and chanting. All this to shoo away evil spirits and bring back the sun.
But we know better these days, and can view this event for pure entertainment. NASA warns us that looking directly at the sun, even when it’s partially obscured by the moon, can seriously damage our eyes and even cause blindness. They plead for us to never look at a partial solar eclipse without proper eye protection.
Here in Woodinville, our experience of the solar eclipse will last exactly one minute and 58.5 seconds. The longest possible duration for a total solar eclipse is 7 minutes and 32 seconds. Unfortunately, the next time citizens of Woodinville will experience a 7 minute eclipse will be on June 13, 2132. The next total solar eclipse over the continental United States will be on April 8, 2024. For those in the prime pathway from Maine to Texas, it will last about three and half minutes. But for Woodinville, we won’t see another total solar eclipse until 2045.
So this year’s eclipse is a big deal and something to savor. In the same manner my sister and I used to stargaze, Nathan Davis has been doing so with his young children. Just last summer, his 5-year old daughter saw her first shooting star. She made a wish, as all kids should. But what was her wish?
“She was good, she didn’t tell us,” Davis said. “She’s very serious about it. It could be something really good -- but it might just be a box of chocolates.”