In the Path of Totality: The 2017 Eclipse

We had been planning to be in the path of totality for over a year, purchasing tickets to OMSI’s eclipse party at the state fairgrounds in Salem, Oregon in July of 2016. As the date approached, the media was inundated with warnings about traffic congestion, fuel shortages, and other issues related to the eclipse.

path of totality - solar eclipse Preparing for Totality

As we prepared for the event and stressed about logistics – wondering if we should change plans and camp in the Cascades [we would need to pick Geneva up on Friday evening after National Youth Leadership Training – (NYLT)], crash at my brother’s in Eugene, or return home and then drive up to Salem the morning of – we spent time learning more about eclipses.

We had previously seen an annular eclipse and the kids were curious how they differed. Best of all, their interest tied into the requirements necessary to earn the coveted BSA Eclipse patch:

  • Boy Scouts: Draw a diagram of the positions of the moon, earth, and sun to show how the solar eclipse occurs.
  • Venturers: Research Sir Arthur Stanley Eddington’s 1919 experiment and discuss how it confirmed Einstein’s theory of general relativity.

We had recently discovered mysimpleshow and it seemed like the perfect tool for this project. We thereby collaborated (learning how to use the program together) on an explainer video for the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse.

As

As this was our first multimedia presentation with mysimpleshow, we struggled with a few things (I can’t figure out why a few of the images appear in blue hues) but otherwise we LOVE it! We will definitely be using it again – I’ll be posting a complete review in September so check back. 🙂

Experiencing Totality

After learning more about the location of Geneva’s NYLT camp, we opted to return home Friday evening – we didn’t get home until nearly 1 a.m. She needed the time to decompress after camp however, so it was a wise decision.

We decided to drive up Sunday afternoon and thereby made arrangements to pitch our tent in a friend’s backyard (Thank you, Hannah!). Traffic was not bad on the way up and we arrived rested and excited for the next day.

path of totality - solar eclipse We grabbed a quick breakfast and made our way over the fairgrounds where the vibe was picking up as our morning coffees began to work their magic. We met up with friends who drove down from Portland and the festivities began.

We meandered the vendor booths and enjoyed the speakers in the amphitheater. The best part of the morning was simply catching up with our friends and taking in each moment – Geneva sketching and Jeffrey cubing.

I loved watching the crowd as the moon eclipsed the sun. Taiko drummers beat out a rhythm as totality approached and were silent during the 1 minute 53 seconds of duration. The crowd was awed and everyone mesmerized by the beauty of the natural event.

path of totality - solar eclipse

It was so fun to experience it with a large crowd – to stop even ever so briefly and not worry about politics or personal strife. Though many people began to depart after totality, we opted to stay.

We enjoyed a leisurely lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant as we contemplated which route to take to return home. As I5 south was already congested with traffic (our GPS map showed it red for the entire length of the state), we chose to drive slightly westward and then proceed south on highway 99 through Monmouth and Corvallis. This turned out to be a wise choice. Though traffic was heavier than usual, we encountered congestion for only a short stretch between Corvallis and Monroe.

It has been several days now since the eclipse and we are still in awe. It was really incredible and we are so thankful we had the opportunity to experience a total solar eclipse in totality. The next eclipse visible in the United States will be 2024. We may consider making plans for this one as well.

 

 

An Eclipse and the Perseids – Astronomy Activities for Kids

This year promises to be an exciting year for astronomers, both amateur and professionals alike.  Local astronomy clubs, science museums, and national parks are teaming up to provide the public with an array of informal astronomy activities. These opportunities provide children of all ages to learn about our night skies and further explore our natural world.

We have taken advantage of these opportunities whenever we could. The kids always walk away more interested, proving once again that learning is a natural process and that children learn best when we allow that natural process to unfold, unfettered by the meddling of others.

comet activity box

Solar Eclipse

In May, we joined other letterboxers for the Annular Solar Eclipse.   This month, we spent the morning at Turtle Bay Exploration Park for Science Saturday.  We expected to find numerous hands-on activities and engaging speakers on the topic of astronomy but were disappointed.  They kids actually said, “Mom, you could have done better than that.”  Indeed I probably could have.

As it were, there was one activity we did enjoy – a set of four mystery boxes in which common household items were concealed (a bowl of ice, a rock, a bowl of sand and gravel, and a fourth item I don’t recall).   Visitors were asked to insert our hand into each box to identify what part of a comet the item represented. We enjoyed this activity and the kids were really engaged. They continued to ask many questions throughout the day as they reflected on the experience.

comet activity boxes

Perseid Meteor Shower

In the evening, we drove out to Whiskeytown for a star party and the Perseid Meteor Shower.  “Shooting stars” and “falling stars” are both names that describe meteors. Essentially streaks of light across the night sky caused by small bits of interplanetary rock and debris called meteoroids vaporizing high in Earth’s upper atmosphere.  Traveling at tens of thousands of miles an hour, meteoroids quickly ignite from the friction with the atmosphere, 30 to 80 miles above the ground.  Most are destroyed in this process, the rare few that survive and hit the ground are known as meteorites.

A meteor shower is a higher than average number of “shooting stars” that streak through the night sky. Most meteor showers are spawned by comets.  As a comet orbits the Sun, an icy, dusty debris stream appears along its orbit.  If Earth travels through this stream, we will see a meteor shower.  Although meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, if you trace their paths, the meteors in each appear to “rain” in the sky from the same region.  They are named for the constellation that coincides with this region in the sky, a spot known as the radiant.  A meteor shower that radiates from the constellation Leo is called the Leonid meteor shower.  The Perseid meteor shower is so named because meteors appear to fall or originate from a point in the constellation Perseus.

Perseids meteor shower

Star Party

We had a great time at the star party! We first met with a park ranger who led the kids through a couple of activities. This was quite the challenge in the dark, I might add.  Thereafter, we walked about to look through the telescopes that the astronomers had set up for the occasion, allowing us glimpses of M13 (a globular cluster in the …. ), Saturn, and Venus.  We were also able to hold numerous meteorites of varying sizes in our hand.  Finally, we laid down on the beach and spent an hour or so gazing at the milky way with our heads directed towards Perseus.  Sure enough, in no time we started seeing numerous small “shooting stars” dart across the sky – wondering if these were indeed meteors.  We heard exclamations of aww and surprise on numerous occasions. Though we may have missed some, we did see at least two significant ones that elicited exclamations from us as well.

We headed home when the kids said they were getting sleepy.  We journaled about the experience the following day, but their notes and faint pencil sketches didn’t come through well in the photograph – sadly, I don’t yet have a scanner.  A week later, we returned to Whiskeytown with the activity booklet the ranger had distributed completed and the kids were given a “Junior Ranger Night Explorer” badge.

Annular Eclipse 2012

Yesterday, an annular eclipse of the sun was visible to the United States and a narrow path across the northern Hemisphere. We were delighted to have the opportunity to observe the eclipse – and even better – we did so with an awesome group of Letterboxers.

Featherhead with Green Tortuga as he gives a mini astronomy lesson

We met at Hog Plateau – an area inundated with letterboxes.  However, due to the heat (it was nearly 100 degrees), we opted to save the quest for another time.  Instead, we spent the evening exchanging signature stamps with our new Letterboxing friends, catching up with friends whom we had met previously, and seeking out the special event boxes – some hidden in plain site, others (travelers) required little sleuthing.

Featherhead with Lady Marmalade
A few of us observing the eclipse
Team Academia Celestia – Maersk, Makita, & Featherhead

Solar eclipses happen all over the globe all the time, but this was the first in the continental U.S. in more than 18 years.  An annular eclipse is a “ring of fire” solar eclipse. A total eclipse is when the moon’s shadow completely covers the sun and makes it dark during the day. This eclipse will cover about 85% of the sun leaving a visible ring.

Our dynamic host, Green Tortuga, captured this image of the eclipse through his telescope. Thanks again for putting this together for us.  It was a fabulous evening!