With all the advance publicity, few people are still in the dark about the "national eclipse" on Aug. 21.
But many in the Rogue Valley may not realize that, despite not being in the path of totality that carves a crescent across the country from northern Oregon to South Carolina, local viewers will experience a 94 percent solar "obscuration" in Medford and 93 percent in Ashland. That means that percentage of the sun’s diameter will be blocked by the moon at the time of maximum eclipse, when only a small sliver of the sun will be visible.
It will be the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in nearly 100 years and the first total eclipse exclusive to the U.S. since before the nation’s founding in 1776. That’s why it’s being called the national eclipse.
It will trace a path across 12 states (brushing corners of another two) as the moon passes between the Earth and the sun and day turns to night for up to two minutes and 40 seconds at totality. The width of the path of totality is about 70 miles wide.
The next total solar eclipses in North America will be in 2024 and 2045, but they won’t be nationwide.
In Oregon, the path of totality will cross Newport, Lincoln City, Salem, Albany, Corvallis, Madras, Baker City, Ontario, and several small towns in between. Cloudiness could spoil the party, but central Oregon historically has some of the best weather and clearest skies in the country that time of year.
Forget about getting a hotel room in those towns now. Most accommodations long have been sold out. There are plenty of campgrounds in the path of totality, but most of those are booked solid as well.
Besides the homes of relatives, public parking lots, and the side of the road, there are other options for those who insist on viewing totality.
Entrepreneurial farmers are planning eclipse parties, complete with food, drink and music. Grape Lane Poultry Farm, for example, about 20 minutes from Salem, is offering 80 campsites at $275 per couple, including access to portable toilets, water, music, and apple cider.
Atlas Obscura, a world-wide travel guide and event planner, is hosting an eclipse festival Aug. 19-21 in Eastern Oregon. For security reasons, it is revealing the exact location only to ticket purchasers. A full program of scientific and metaphysical presentations is planned, along with performances by a free-jazz orchestra. It isn’t cheap. Admission tickets are $250 and $325 (kids under 10 are free with adults), parking is $45 to $85, and tent packages range from $500 to more than $1,750.
Some central Oregon wineries are providing viewing opportunities. Dr. Kemble Yates, mathematics professor at Southern Oregon University with an interest in cosmology, is one of the lucky ones who will view the eclipse in totality.
“My wife and I will be driving to Salem to attend a gala ceremony at Arcane Cellars,” he said. The winery is on the banks of the Willamette River. “The night before there will be a banquet, live music, and dancing. On the morning of I’ll be giving an informal talk on eclipses, and then we’ll watch the eclipse,” he said.
How Yates landed the gig is a fortuitous — and circuitous — story. More than a year ago, a man who organizes Oregon Shakespeare Festival tours got Yates’ name and asked him what he was doing for the eclipse. Yates agreed to give his group a talk on eclipse day. After they discovered that Ashland wouldn’t be in the path of totality, the organizer got his group booked for the winery festivities and suggested Yates as a presenter.
Members of a long-time Ashland cosmology book club organized by Yates also have marked the eclipse as a don’t-miss event.
David McKee of Ashland made plans early, playing the relatives card.
“I informed my sister-in-law and her husband in Corvallis a year ago that we’d be staying overnight with them Aug. 20,” he said. Will there be a room charge? “I’m thinking a large pizza will suffice,” he laughed.
David Blackman of Phoenix, retired from the physics department at the University of California, Berkeley, has tentative plans to travel with a friend to the Albany area for the big event.
“I’ll take my Nikon D300 camera with a tripod and an 18-stop neutral density filter,” he said, hoping to capture some stellar images.
Scott Foster of Medford plans a more laid back experience: “I’m just going to watch it from the patio with a glass of wine and binoculars.” He'll need a filter with that, as unprotected viewing of the sun, even for a few seconds, can cause permanent blindness, according to the Oregon Academy of Ophthalmology, which recommends using certified solar eclipse glasses or viewers when looking at the sun, except during the total eclipse.
Edward Goldman and his wife, Cheryl, are hosting a dinner the night before. “The party favors will be eclipse-viewing glasses,” he said. The next morning the couple will observe the eclipse on their deck.
In Ashland, ScienceWorks Hands-on Museum at 1500 E. Main St. will celebrate with a ticketed gathering on the lawn the morning of the eclipse. Viewing glasses will be on sale for a dollar. There will be astronomy activities all week, culminating in an admission-free star party Friday, Aug. 25, at 8:30 p.m., hosted by Oregon Museum of Science and Industry of Portland.
Locals who didn’t plan ahead, or who don’t want to fight the traffic or pay the high rates for a room or campsite in the path of totality can have their own eclipse parties without leaving town.
The countdown in Oregon starts just after 9 a.m. (9:03 a.m. in Ashland) when the moon takes the first bite out of the sun.
Just before maximum, at about 10:15 a.m. here, viewers in the path of totality can look to the west and see a curtain of darkness spring up out of the Earth. It will be the moon’s shadow rushing toward them. Rogue Valley observers will notice a dimming of the light, peaking at 10:17 a.m. But for the most part, “day into night” is experienced only where the moon entirely covers the face of the sun.
After a couple minutes, the eclipse will begin to wane and will end at about 11:38 a.m.
Jim Flint is a retired newspaper editor and publisher living in Ashland. He has witnessed “day into night” twice before — once on Feb. 26, 1979, in the Yakima Valley in Washington State during a total solar eclipse, and again about a year later on May 18, 1980, when Mt. St. Helens erupted, the ashfall plunging the Yakima Valley into darkness for about an hour.