Totality 2017: A Life Changing Experience
The total solar eclipse of Monday, August 21, 2017 was the most breathtaking natural event I’ve witnessed in my entire life. I first learned about this eclipse from my 8th grade science teacher during my days at Washington Middle School, and I am so glad I was able to find a place with friends in the Cascade foothills NE of Salem to experience totality.
The partial eclipse began at 9:05 in the morning while we were eating breakfast, and I was incredibly relieved to don my eclipse glasses and actually see part of the moon eclipsing the sun. Maybe it’s just a meteorologist thing, but given how many times our weather forecasts have gone awry, there was an irrational part of me that was skeptical that the eclipse would even occur. I was relieved to know that the astronomers did their math right!
After breakfast, we all decided to head a mile north towards some open farmland to get a better view of the main event. We got there around 9:35 and had a grand ol’ time conversing with other eclipse chasers from across the country, watching the sun become more and more obscured by the moon as we chatted. The temperature began to drop and the light began to dim, but everything was relatively gradual—it was amazing how much light remained when we were only a minute from totality. But when totality was less than 20 seconds away, the sky underwent an unbelievably fast transformation from day to night. It was an immensely powerful experience to see the entire world darken before your very eyes.
Totality occurred from approximately 10:18 to 10:20 at our location, and to be completely honest with you, much of it is still a blur for me. Far from being a conscientious observer of a naturally explained phenomenon, I was so overwhelmed by the sudden transition to darkness and the breathtaking beauty of the corona that I paced around like a kindergartner doing a potty dance, with some primordial grunts added for auditory effect. One of my eclipse-chasing buddies and I paid tribute to our hometown and sang Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” during the waning moments of totality.
The sun’s corona was more expansive and beautiful than I could have ever imagined. I thought the corona would simply be a symmetrical “plasma donut,” but there were three huge “tendrils” of the solar wind that extended far beyond the main corona. Seeing these jets of energy radiating across the sky gave me an affection for the sun I had never had before—how kind of it to do all that work just to allow organisms like me and you to thrive. Thanks sun!
We were also fortunate enough to see solar prominences peeking just above the moon’s shadow. Prominences are loops in the sun’s photosphere (outermost surface) that follow the sun’s magnetic field lines hundreds of thousands of miles into the corona. These prominences were visible to us as red highlights on the surface of the sun.
We saw the famous “diamond ring” as totality ended and sun reappeared from behind the moon, and within a few minutes, the sky was bright enough that the stars and planets that were clearly visible during totality had all but disappeared. After admiring the crescent shaped shadows from the now partially eclipsed sun under the shade of a tree, we had lunch, packed our belongings and began a very slow drive home.
This eclipse was truly the experience of a lifetime, and was more overwhelming than anything I could have possibly imagined. You’ll have to wait until 2169 for Seattle’s next total solar eclipse, but the next total solar eclipse east of the Rockies occurs on April 8, 2024. It’s not too early to begin planning to see it!
Charlie, a Madrona resident, received his B.S. in atmospheric sciences from the University of Washington and works in Portland as a meteorologist forecasting wind energy along the Columbia River Gorge. Check out his weather website at weathertogether.us.