What you need to know about August's solar eclipse
Keep your fingers crossed Whatcom County – we might actually get to see this thing. As we know here in the Pacific Northwest, we don’t always get a clear view of the sun, even when it’s not obscured by the moon.
Just imagine having what’s been dubbed “The Great American Eclipse” on Aug. 21 eclipsed by a ceiling of clouds and rain ... not to mention smoke from British Columbia wildfires.
As of Tuesday morning, we appear to be in the clear to get a good look of the solar eclipse – with proper eye protection, of course – as weather.com is predicting mostly sunny skies for Bellingham, a 20-percent chance of precipitation and a high of 71 degrees that day. With any luck, the smoke also will be long gone by then, too.
But as we are well aware, that forecast is likely to change at least a half dozen times over the next 13 days. In fact, it’s already changed – on Monday, the same website predicted cloudy skies and a 40-percent chance of showers for eclipse day.
Assuming the skies do cooperate, we should get quite a show here. NASA posted an interactive map of the eclipse that allows viewers to click on their own neighborhood and see how much of the sun will be obscured by the moon and what time the eclipse will start, reach its maximum and conclude.
According to the map, Whatcom County will witness between an 86- and 88-percent eclipse of the sun at its maximum at about 10:21 a.m. The partial eclipse will start at approximately 9:10 a.m. and last until about 11:40 a.m.
While seeing up to 88 percent of the sun in shadow will be quite impressive, it’s nothing compared to what our neighbors in Oregon are supposed to experience. A large part of the state is in the path across the United States that will witness a total eclipse. The last time anywhere in the Pacific Northwest witnessed a total eclipse was in February 1979.
If you’re planning to make the trip south, the Washington State Department of Transportation offered some tips to deal with the expected cosmic traffic jam, including highways to avoid in the southern part of the state and advising drivers to keep the roads and shoulders clear and, of course, refrain from wearing their dark eclipse viewing glasses while driving. The Oregon Department of Transportation is recommending eclipse watchers “Arrive Early, Stay Put and Leave Late.”
Astronomy.com offers the top 20 hot spots in the United States to watch the eclipse, including Oregon towns Madras and Lime and Idaho’s Smiths Ferry and Terreton.
Greatamericaneclipse.com offers a number of useful maps and links, including the basics of what causes an eclipse, while NASA offers advice on how to view and photograph the eclipse at eclipse2017.nasa.gov, including:
▪ Never looking directly at the sun outside the path of totality. In the path of totality, you can look directly at the sun for a few minutes when the sun is completely blocked by the moon, but outside it you must use eye protection to avoid damage to your eyes.
▪ Inspecting your solar filter for scratches, punctures or tears before use.
▪ Supervising children using their solar filters.
▪ Putting solar filters over your glasses if you usually wear them.
▪ Not looking at the sun through a camera, telescope, binoculars or any other optical device without a solar filter attached to the front of the telescope, whether you’re wearing solar filters or not.
Helpful eclipse viewing links
NASA solar eclipse interactive map: eclipse2017.nasa.gov/sites/default/files/interactive_map/index.html
Best places to see a total eclipse: greatamericaneclipse.com/best-places-to-view/
How to view the eclipse safely: eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety
Eye wear and hand-held viewers: eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/eyewear-viewers
Pinhole and optical viewers: eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/projection
Solar filters for telescopes, binoculars and cameras: https://eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/optics-filters
How to tell if your eclipse glasses are safe: eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety/iso-certification
Reputable vendors of solar filters and viewers: eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters