MADRAS, Ore. – The spectacle that skywatchers made years’ worth of plans to see finally happened today, darkening the sky during a total solar eclipse.
The moon began covering up the sun over Oregon just after 9 a.m. PT, with thousands of cameras equipped with solar filters trained on the sight.
The shadow of the moon streaked eastward from Oregon to the coast of South Carolina, delivering the first all-American total solar eclipse in 99 years.
The temperature in summery Madras, where thousands of eclipse-watchers gathered, cooled from 73 to 64 degrees Fahrenheit as the eclipse neared its climax.
Just before totality, sunlight waned as if someone was turning down a dimmer switch. A wave of darkness swept in from the west. Day turned into night, to the cheers of the Oregon Solarfest assembly at the Jefferson County Fairgrounds in Madras.
The total phase lasted for two minutes starting at 10:20 a.m. PT in Madras, beginning and ending with a brilliant “diamond ring” effect. During full totality, observers wielding binoculars could see red prominences licking up from the sun as well as the star’s faintly glowing outer atmosphere, known as the corona.
Al Smith, a retired geophysicist from California, said the spectacle exceeded his expectations, especially considering the smoky haze that hung high overhead.
“I was surprised,” he told GeekWire. “We cleared out enough that the corona just blasted through. I think everybody was happy. They had an orgasmic experience.”
By late morning, the temperature in Madras was back in the mid-70s.
Although a partial solar eclipse could be seen anywhere in North America where the skies were clear, totality could be experienced only within a 70-mile-wide path where the moon’s shadow was deepest.
Authorities in Oregon made plans for more than a million travelers to swoop into the state for totality, in part because central Oregon had the best chance of clear skies based on historical data. And in fact, the only thing dimming the skies over Oregon was the smoke from wildfires.
Traffic tie-ups in the state weren’t as bad as some had feared, although more serious problems were reported in other parts of the country.
Seattleites saw up to 92 percent of the sun’s disk covered, dimming the skies to about the level of sunset at the 10:20 a.m. peak.
A NASA research plane and a specially chartered Alaska Airlines jet flew out from Seattle this morning to get the first guaranteed cloud-free glimpses of the eclipse from aerial vantage points off the coast of Oregon.
Follow our Eclipse Journal and see the links below for more coverage.
- Don’t panic, but be ready: Last-minute guide to the all-American solar eclipse
- As eclipse nears, astronomers issue warning about fake solar glasses
- Here comes the sun’s corona: What eclipse chasers will see during totality
- All along ‘zone of totality,’ small towns make big bets to cash in on darkness
- Oregon’s prime eclipse zone braces for the agony and the ecstasy of totality