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OUT OF THE VAULT: 1979 total eclipse wows Eastern Oregon

Published on August 12, 2017 3:00AM

Last changed on August 13, 2017 3:15PM


A large portion of the United States is gearing up for a total solar eclipse that will be visible from coast to coast on August 21, 2017. Beginning at 8:46 a.m. at Yaquina Head Lighthouse near Newport on the Oregon Coast, the eclipse will darken a more than 60-mile-wide swath of the state before moving on across the continent. Most of Central Oregon is in the path of totality, and it is estimated that a million people will travel to Oregon for its cloud-free viewing opportunities. And it will be the last time in our lifetime that Oregonians will be able to watch a total solar eclipse from home — the next one to cross the state won’t happen until June 2169.

The first known documentation of a total solar eclipse was made in China in 2137 B.C. Two Chinese astronomers, named Hi and Ho, were tasked with bringing back the light by banging drums and shooting arrows at the giant serpent they thought was swallowing the sun. However, they lost their focus during an unfortunate bout of heavy drinking, and lost their heads to the royal executioner as a result.

The last time Eastern Oregon was in the path of a total solar eclipse was Feb. 26, 1979. The eclipse began around 7:15 a.m., just as schoolchildren would have been on their way to school, and school districts around the area either delayed opening or opened early so kids would have supervision during the celestial event. Many districts geared the day’s lessons around the eclipse, making homemade viewers to safely view the sun as it was gradually covered by the moon’s shadow.

Local pilots loaded friends and family into their planes and took off from regional airports, seeking a vantage point above clouds that threatened to block the view. Hermiston residents cheered when a break in the cloud cover appeared just as totality was imminent. Other residents traveled to the nearest public observatory, in Goldendale, Wash., where more than a thousand people viewed the eclipse from atop a butte above the Columbia River. In Portland, people had to be satisfied with photos taken by others; their view was blocked by overcast skies.

Before 1979, the last total solar eclipse seen in Eastern Oregon occurred on June 8, 1918. And though Pendleton received 99.5 percent totality, many residents traveled south to Pilot Rock and east to Baker City to see the eclipse in its full glory. The naval observatory at Baker City photographed the eclipse using a 65-foot camera, the largest in the area.

Haven’t been able to score a set of eclipse glasses? You can make a homemade viewer with two pieces of cardboard, a piece of aluminum foil and tape. Cut a one-inch-square hole in the center of one sheet of cardboard and tape a piece of foil over the hole. Poke a tiny hole through the center of the foil with a sewing needle. To use the viewer, turn your back to the sun and place the cardboard viewer over your shoulder. Use the other piece of cardboard as a screen, moving it closer and farther away to make the image of the eclipsing sun larger or smaller.

Looking directly at the sun during a total solar eclipse, even for a short time, can permanently damage your eyesight, as 121 people discovered during an eclipse in 1970.



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