I have a confession. Up until a couple of weeks ago, I wasn’t interested in the solar eclipse.
Like, at all.
It wasn’t until my dad started talking about it when I was on vacation with him in Maine earlier this month that I realized my non-interest was stemming more from not liking all the hype surrounding the eclipse rather than the actual eclipse itself.
For those readers who don’t know, I live in Oregon, the first American state for the eclipse to hit. Hundreds of thousands of people poured into our state just to find a viewing place in the path of totality, a 70-mile wide swath of land that the eclipse would follow from Oregon to South Carolina before heading out into the Atlantic ocean.
The hype around here has been going on for months. Frankly, I was sick of it. In fact, the hype had gotten so bad on social media that someone was promoting tee shirts on Facebook featuring a really stupid looking cat wearing the eclipse glasses. Sorry, but no.
“It’s a once in a lifetime event for most people,” Dad said in a tone I know all too well from my childhood — one that implies I’m being foolish in my thinking. The tone was also tinged with wistfulness, as he wouldn’t be able to see it like I would since he’d still be in Maine. My dad is a pretty smart guy. He’s been into astronomy for as long as I can remember. A stack of astronomy themed books and magazines is never more than an arm’s length away from his reading chair. I could tell I’d be an idiot to not jump on the solar eclipse viewing bandwagon if only to honor him — so I decided to change my tune.
Once I decided I would get on board with seeing the eclipse, I wrote down on my list of things to do as soon as I returned to Oregon: get a pair of solar eclipse viewing glasses. Turns out, finding a pair at the 11th hour was more difficult than spotting a native Portlander not wearing long sleeves and pants on a 100 degree day.
Here’s where the magic of social media comes in. I happened to be scrolling my Facebook feed when I saw someone in Portland asking if anyone knew where to get viewing glasses. A few suggestions were offered including — of all places — a 7-11 not too far from my house. After taking my son to work the next morning, I drove to that 7-11 with high hopes. When I walked in I saw a man getting rung up at the counter and along with a Powerball ticket and a pack of smokes was a pair of the glasses.
Bingo! I thought to myself. I’m in.
Well…not so fast.
When I told the clerk why I was there, he told me he’d just sold the last pair to the guy before me. I was crestfallen.
“Really?” I said, my lower lip quivering.
He looked at me sympathetically and then said: “Wait just a second!” as he whisked to the back room. Within seconds he presented me with a set. “THIS is the last pair!” he said triumphantly.[Note to self — quivering lower lip still works.]
Social Media Score!
My heart raced and I could have hugged the guy. Everywhere else was sold out. He told me one of the gals who works a different shift had purchased 20 pair for her and her friends — only to discover she was scheduled to work during the eclipse.
“So she decided to sell these to whoever got here first,” he said.
“Well, I’m glad I was one of the lucky ones to get a pair,” I said.
The glasses are made of heavy paper stock. This particular set is called Sun Catcher out of Arizona. He unfolded them for me and pointed at the fine print on the inside of one of the temples.
“See how it says these glasses conform the standards set forth by the governing body of safe viewing…for safe viewing,” he said. I could tell he’d gone over this part more than once. I nodded and thanked him again.
“Whoa” was all I could muster. “That’s wild!”
I showed my glasses to my son later after he got home from work. We made our plans for viewing, and that was that.
Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect yesterday during the solar eclipse. Not quite in the path of totality, my house is located at a point of 99.4% bulk of moon coverage over the sun at its max. After eating our solar eclipse 2017 breakfast of French toast and bacon, my son and I set up chairs in the front yard, put on our special viewing glasses, and settled in for the show. I didn’t know if my little piece of the world would go completely dark — spoiler alert, it didn’t — but the experience was a lot cooler than I thought it would be.
I made a recording in the few last minutes leading up the eclipse. It’s a little piece of history and it captures the rawness of two people watching a historical event together. Some interesting and unexpected things happened during it; you can listen to the full recording here.
Spooky Things Happened During the Solar Eclipse 2017
My intention when I turned on the recorder on my iPhone 6s was to record the entire eclipse experience. It wasn’t until about 10 minutes after the climax of the eclipse had passed that I checked my recorder only to discover it was no longer running. Its abrupt ending is one of the spooky things that happened yesterday.
Other spooky things you may have picked up from the recording… obviously the world didn’t end despite my son’s dramatic comment there before the recording stopped. But what about that crazy wavy light we saw? What was causing it to dance all over the sidewalk?
And why did all those dogs suddenly start barking right before the moon reached 99.4% totality on its crossing of the sun? What instincts kick in to animals during a solar eclipse? Does the wind always start to blow right before the eclipse or was that coincidental?
I set out to find the answers to these questions and here’s what I learned.
1. About those strange wavy lines Ben and I saw on the ground. In an article published yesterday on Time dot com…apparently, “mysterious shadowy figures that wriggle like snakes have been known to appear on surfaces near the ground seconds before and after a total solar eclipse. The shadow bands — sometimes called shadow snakes — are thin and wavy lines that can be seen moving on plain-colored surfaces, like white cars. The faint, squiggly figures fluctuate in lightness and darkness and do not always show during solar eclipses.
“They look like ripples of sunshine at the bottom of a swimming pool,” NASA says on its website. Scientists have been stumped by the rare and unpredictable phenomenon for at least a century. However, NASA said the “simplest explanation” is that they likely arise from “atmospheric turbulence,” or how light passes through different layers of the atmosphere. Renowned English astronomer George Airy wrote about shadow bands during a total eclipse in the early 1840s, according to the space agency. “As the totality approached, a strange fluctuation of light was seen upon the walls and the ground, so striking that in some places children ran after it and tried to catch it with their hands,” Airy said.
2. As far as the dogs barking…my research from National Geographic dot com revealed some dogs will bark and others won’t. But animals do sense a change in barometric pressure and have been known to do some crazy things during an eclipse. Anecdotal evidence suggests that orb-weaving spiders destroy their webs during an eclipse. I did not witness this myself, so I can’t attest to whether or not this is true. However, it is certainly interesting!
3. I found the answer to the sudden appearance of wind right before the eclipse on a website called phys.org (I think phys stands for physics). This phenomenon has been recorded for centuries, all the way back to Edmund Halley – of Halley’s Comet fame – who noted the ‘Chill and Damp which attended the Darkness’ of an eclipse in 1715, causing ‘some sense of Horror’ among the spectators. It wasn’t until recently that scientists were able to mine enough data from eclipse observations to come up with a theory.
Scientists found that the wind change during an eclipse is caused by variations to the ‘boundary layer’ – the area of air that usually separates high-level winds from those at the ground. As the sun disappears behind the moon the ground suddenly cools, just like at sunset. This means warm air stops rising from the ground, causing a drop in wind speed and a shift in its direction, as the slowing of the air by the Earth’s surface changes.
I Love Modern Science
Isn’t science great? I love that we can find credible answers to questions so easily today and partake in a community experience via technology like millions of us did yesterday during the solar eclipse.
Here is my attempt at taking a photo of the solar eclipse 2017 with my iPhone 6s. Not even close to anything! But I had a good time doing it and that’s what matters. The photos from NASA below are off the charts cool.
Did you get a chance to witness the eclipse? What was your experience like? Were you glad you made time to do it? If you weren’t in a place to view it, did you at least peak at a photo or two? NASA has some amazing shots of the event like this one (thanks, NASA!)