BEND, Ore. – The total solar eclipse that will pass over Central Oregon in August is a big enough deal that the staff at Pine Mountain Observatory will be playing hooky for the day.
The observatory, a little less than 30 miles east of Bend, has the most powerful telescopes in the region for viewing the skies. But, according to University of Oregon astronomy professor Scott Fisher, during the Aug. 21 eclipse, the moon will only obscure 99.2 percent of the sun’s surface at Pine Mountain.
Good, but not good enough, said Fisher, outreach director for the observatory.
So the staff is planning on tacking up a “closed for the day” sign over the sign along U.S. Highway 20 that guides visitors to the observatory, shutting the place down, and heading north to the “path of totality,” the narrow band where the moon will cover the entirety of the sun’s surface for a few minutes that day.
Fisher said assuming Aug. 21 is a clear day, within the path of totality viewers should be able to see a full sky of stars and planets, and the sun’s corona, the wispy aura of superheated plasma that extends millions of miles beyond the surface of the sun. Confused birds will return to trees to sleep, and the temperature could drop by as much as 20 degrees.
Even at 99 percent totality, the sliver of sun peeking through is bright enough to render the corona and all but the brightest planets and stars invisible. Viewers using safety glasses will be able to watch the shadow of the moon passing in front of the sun, he said, but it won’t feel as though day has turned to night.
“That is a wonderful, beautiful event to see – however, you have to be in the path of totality if you want to see all of the effects of the eclipse,” he said.
It’s a similar story for staff at the Oregon Observatory at Sunriver. Located a bit farther out of the band of totality – observatory manager Bob Grossfeld said Sunriver viewers will experience approximately 98 percent totality – the observatory will be open Aug. 21, but staff and volunteers will be scattered around the region.
Grossfeld said the Oregon Observatory will have a presence at eclipse viewing events at the Oregon State Fair in Salem, at Madras High School, at private events in the Madras and Culver areas, and at Worthy Brewing on Bend’s east side.
Fixed telescopes like the one recently installed at Worthy Brewing are actually of little value for viewing the August eclipse, Grossfeld said. Because the eclipse will peak at 10:20 a.m. in Bend, the sun will still be too low in the eastern sky to be viewed through Worthy’s telescope. Instead, the Oregon Observatory will bring its smaller telescopes fitted with filters for safe viewing to various locations.
Grossfeld said his observatory has been fielding calls from people curious about the eclipse for more than two years. Over the next few months, observatory staff and volunteers will host events around the region to give away viewing glasses and drum up interest in the eclipse. He said even those outside the path of totality should make a point of viewing the eclipse.
“Just because they’re not in Madras doesn’t mean they should not view (it), because it’s going to be really spectacular,” he said.
Fisher said Central Oregon is experiencing a “double mania” as the eclipse draws closer. Not only will the August eclipse be the first total eclipse in the continental United States since 1979, Central Oregon’s desert climate provides the best chance of a clear day anywhere along the path of totality.
“I believe the mania,” Fisher said. “I think it’s going to be an unprecedented event for Central Oregon.”
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