What a sight: Oregon's 2017 Total Eclipse Experience

The Aug. 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, coast to coast in the US, started in Oregon and lived up to the hype, said many sky-watchers.

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The Great American Eclipse is over, and we can all forget about it and get on with our lives, right?

Not so fast. The scientists who studied the eclipse will continue to pore over the data gathered and publish scientific studies for years.

During the eclipse, one of the most important observations was of the sun's corona, the sun's thin, outer atmosphere that's only visible during total eclipses.


Timelapse of total solar eclipse over Silverton, Oregon on Aug. 21, 2017

The corona is so dim that it's usually totally overwhelmed by the light from the sun, Space.com said, but during the total solar eclipse, that light was conveniently blocked.

That allowed astronomers to study the shape, structure and extent of the sun's corona. Of particular interest is the magnetic field of the sun’s corona, which can help improve predictions of when the sun might erupt with a solar flare or coronal mass ejection, which can affect telecommunications systems here on Earth.

“Total solar eclipses mostly tell us about the structure of the solar corona and its influence on the solar wind and on the interplanetary magnetic field," said Edward Rhodes of the University of Southern California. 

More: Highlights of KGW's #OReclipse2017 coverage

Orbiting satellites also captured reams of data during the eclipse, NASA said. 

In addition, NASA's Eclipse Ballooning Project Students conducted high-altitude balloon flights from 30 locations across the total eclipse path, sending live video and images from near space NASA about the Earth's weather and other information.

Airline passengers across the US who happened to be on flights that coincided with the eclipse had incredible views as well. But one airplane flight stood out.

Atmospheric scientists closely monitored changes in temperature and other weather changes. In Tennessee, for example, the temperature dropped as much as 7 degrees in Crossville, the National Weather Service reported.

Scientists at zoos and aquariums across the country also closely watched animal behavior during the eclipse, which will be studied in the months ahead. At the Memphis Zoo, for instance, though not in the path of totality, animals such as elephants, hippos, crocodiles and penguins exhibited unusual behavior. 

“We saw some subtle changes to Asali’s behavior,” said Amanda Schweighart, the elephant manager, referring to an elephant at the zoo. “She’s the youngest of our herd, and she went into an 'alert' stance, that lasted several seconds. Once she reunited herself with her two herd mates, her behavior returned to normal.”

Young giraffes at the Nashville zoo were also spotted running in circles during the eclipse. 

An odd shade of purple

In Oregon, Zach Urness of the Salem Statesman Journal traveled across much of the state to get a sense of the excitement around the eclipse. He and a photographer friend ended up backpacking into the Strawberry Mountain Wilderness and were there on Eclipse Day.

Here's his account of the big day, as he reported for the Statesman Journal.

We woke at 4:30 a.m. and hiked up the road to the trailhead, then followed the trail through dark forest and morning’s reddish-orange glow to one of Oregon’s most beautiful sights.

Strawberry Lake shimmers wide and blue, surrounded on both sides by rugged mountain peaks and glassy rivers that roll into the 36-acre body of water.

Just as the rangers said, the lake was surrounded by tents, some camped at suspect locations. Overall, though, the scene wasn’t awful — it was just a lot more people than normal at a beautiful spot.

We toured the lake, meeting people who’d made the trip. They were mostly from Oregon, California and Washington, but said they’d met backpackers from Sweden, Norway and Germany.

“Happy Eclipse Day,” hikers said as we passed.

The scene was joyful, as campers traded plans on where to view and photograph the eclipse. Some had dutifully scouted the sun as it rose each morning and told Jeff and I which ridge it would rise over.

Krista Swan, of Portland, had backpacked to Strawberry Lake with her family a few days earlier.

“We’re nature lovers, so for this once-in-a-lifetime experience we wanted to be in a beautiful place like this,” she said. “There’s a lot of people — at least 100 tents — but everybody is happy and friendly. It’s a real excited feeling.”

Three generations of the Scovil family from Eugene — grandpa Roger, father Nate and two kids Griffin and Mason, had also backpacked in early.

“We wanted to experience it out in nature,” Nate Scovil said. “We figured we’d make it a backpacking trip, and have the eclipse at the end to really seal those memories in.”

The eclipse started with little warning, while people were still claiming their spots around the lake. Everyone seemed so focused on the time listed for totality, 10:16 a.m., that it came as almost a surprise when the moon started crashing into the sun.

 

“Hey, it started,” somebody yelled.

The unique quality of watching the eclipse in a place like Strawberry Lake immediately became apparent. The cliffs surrounding the lake began to darken, first into shadow, then an odd shade of purple. As the temperature dropped, clouds appeared in the sky, where none had been previously.  

As totality approached, a few stars appeared in the sky.

Howls echoed between canyon walls as the lake dropped into darkness. In a weird way, the sound reminded me of a concert crowd that’s just heard the first chords of their favorite song.

It was, of course, over too quickly. Especially for those of us frantically snapping pictures and fumbling with camera equipment.  

Luckily, other people filled in the blanks.

“I gotta tell you, I saw the eclipse in 1979 and the only thing I remember was it getting dark,” Roger Scovil said. “This time, seeing corona around the sun was just awesome. I can’t think of anything to compare it to.”

So did seeing the eclipse in the wilderness really create a better experience?

“I think so,” Nate Scovil said. “It’s not just the eclipse. It’s the entire experience — camping, hiking and then the eclipse — that made it so awesome.”

Some impressive ways you watched the eclipse

Reporting also by Doyle Rice, USA Today

Published Aug. 23, 2017

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