questions about the solar eclipse happening Aug. 21?
Five seconds on Google will get you more than 10 million
results — including interactive maps that zoom in on
the zone of totality from coast to coast.
the last time the Pacific Northwest experienced a total
solar eclipse, information wasn’t as easy to come by.
went to the library," recalled Bryan Brewer.
"And you did a lot of things by phone and
mail." Among them: dialing up the U.S. Naval
Observatory to request pamphlets showing the eclipse
then a 32-year-old technical writer at Boeing, became
intrigued with the subject when he learned that southern
Washington and northern Oregon would be in the prime
viewing zone for the eclipse of Feb. 26, 1979. He
thought it would be the perfect setting for a reunion
with college friends.
the research was frustrating. Most of the books Brewer
found were highly technical. None combined history,
science and eclipse lore in a concise, readable format.
couldn’t find a good book on the subject," he
said, "so I decided to write my own."
years later, the competition is stiffer.
upcoming total eclipse of the sun will be the first of
the internet age in the contiguous United States, and
its approach is being heralded by a deluge of data,
websites, publications and guides. Search for
"eclipse books" on Amazon, and hundreds of
titles pop up.
includes a new edition of Brewer’s self-published
book, "Eclipse: History. Science. Awe." The
introduction, written by the late sci-fi luminary Frank
Herbert, author of "Dune" and then-Port
Townsend resident, remains unchanged. But Brewer, now 70
and working as a startup consultant, spruced up the
package with color images and revised the text to focus
on this year’s epidemic of eclipse fever.
was a lot of enthusiasm in 1979, but it wasn’t nearly
as widespread as today," he said. "The level
of interest is just increasing exponentially as you get
closer to the day."
some people don’t seem to appreciate the vast
difference between a partial and total eclipse — or
how moving the experience can be, Brewer added. One of
his neighbors recently mentioned that her family planned
to take in the event from Seattle, where the moon will
block about 95 percent of the sun’s surface.
95 percent sounds close to 100 percent, the effect is
not comparable. Even at 99 percent, a sliver of the sun
remains uncovered — which means none of the striking
features of a total eclipse are visible.
only when you get to 100 percent that the experience is
just off the charts," Brewer said. "If you’re
interested in this, make sure you get in the path of
memories of that February morning in 1979 remain vivid.
He and a dozen friends bundled up in down parkas and
drove to the top of a bluff near Goldendale, Klickitat
County, just north of the Columbia River and about 100
miles east of Portland. Clouds that threatened to block
their view parted at the last minute.
anticipation was palpable," Brewer said. For about
an hour, the moon crept slowly over the face of the sun.
Clouds blocked the view, "Then: Boom!"
bluff was plunged into twilight. Birds fell silent.
Stars shone. And the solar corona — the star’s
normally invisible outer fringe — burst into view.
the introduction to his book "American
Eclipse," science writer David Baron describes his
initiation into the ranks of umbraphiles —
eclipse-chasers — this way:
three glorious minutes, I felt transported to another
planet, indeed to a higher plane of reality, as my
consciousness departed the earth and I gaped at an alien
me, in the dim vault of the heavens, shone an
incomprehensible object. It looked like an enormous
wreath woven from silvery thread and it hung suspended
in the immensity of space, shimmering. As I stood
transfixed by this vision, I felt something I had never
experienced before — a visceral connection to the
universe … "
felt that connection, too, and it’s what led him to
travel the globe to experience it again.
led a tour to an eclipse in Brazil in 1994 and was on a
cruise ship in the Caribbean that outran clouds to get a
clear view of an eclipse in 1998. The feeling of awe
intrigued him so much that he added a section to the
book about new research that shows benefits ranging from
a calm-yet-energized state to feelings of openness.
total solar eclipse delivers a big dose of awe in a big
way," he said.
peoples also experienced awe, but often mixed with
terror. Across much of Asia, peasants and soldiers used
to bang drums and shoot arrows into the sky to chase
away the dragon that was eating the sun, according to
Brewer’s book. In 585 B.C., the shocking specter of a
total solar eclipse inspired two warring armies to lay
down their swords and make peace.
troops granted safe passage for an American eclipse
expedition to the Gulf of Maine during the Revolutionary
War — but Baron reports that the organizers got the
location wrong and missed the event. "American
Eclipse" also recounts the race to document an 1878
eclipse on the western frontier at a time when the young
country was eager to establish its scientific bona
don’t occur like clockwork, but they do follow
patterns that were discovered thousands of years ago by
the Babylonians and other ancient civilizations. Mapping
out the exact path of totality was a tougher problem
that took scientists centuries to refine.
1925, scientists tested their predictions by enlisting
residents of New York City to line up along the Hudson
River and note exactly where the moon’s shadow passed
over the metropolis.
of the mystique of total solar eclipses is their
geographical rarity, Brewer said. The sun is completely
eclipsed somewhere on Earth about every 18 months —
but only along a narrow swath. In 1979, that swath
grazed the northwestern corner of the United States,
then looped into Canada.
21 will mark the first coast-to-coast eclipse in the
U.S. in 99 years — and the path of totality will be
about 70 miles wide. For Northwesterners, another total
solar eclipse won’t come close until 2044, when the
path will extend through the eastern half of British
you want to go chase eclipses," Brewer said,
"for most people, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime
A total solar eclipse occurs somewhere on Earth about
every 18 months.
The last coast-to-coast eclipse in the U.S. was 99 years
If the moon’s diameter were 6.5 percent smaller, a
total solar eclipse could never happen.
The last total solar eclipse visible in the Pacific
Northwest occurred Feb. 26, 1979.
After this year, the next ones close to the Northwest
will be Aug. 23, 2044, in eastern British Columbia and
Aug. 12, 2045, in northern California and Nevada.
Duration of totality varies because the distances
between the Earth, sun and moon vary. The longest
eclipse lasts more than 7 minutes. This year’s will
last between 2 and 2.7 minutes.
"Eclipse: History. Science. Awe," by Bryan
Brewer; NASA; space.com