Officially Total Eclipsters!

It was strangely quiet last night as 10,000 hopeful humans settled in to their campsites early to enjoy some serious stargazing.   Five miles north of the limited light pollution from downtown Madras we could gaze clearly at the constellations, planets and even the center of our own Milky Way galaxy.  We were treated to a stellar cosmic preview as a ‘shooting star” fell across the handle of the Big Dipper.  Questions whispered around us were focused on reviewing the eclipse basics we would need for success in the morning … “What time is first contact?” “Is the Diamond Ring effect before or after totality?” “When can I safely remove my eclipse glasses?”

I woke up a little before sunrise so I could greet the sun in all its unsuspecting glory. 
It seemed incredulous that this blinding star 333,000 times more massive than the Earth, would be blacked out in a few hours by our meager moon.

Before breakfast and before the overloaded cellular towers crashed, I was able to make a last contact with the outside world.  I FaceTimed out to my new first block sixth grade science class seated in a Texas classroom far far away.This one call will forever be a high point of my educational career.  Seeing my curious students on my tiny iPhone screen with their eager hands raised with questions about the total eclipse I was about to experience in Oregon will forever be a special memory.

They could see me too;  in the farmer’s field flanked to the west by the volcanic Cascade mountains and backdropped by the rising sun.  Curious fellow eclipsters looked on.  One of my more observant young scientists asked about the clouds spotted to the south.   “What direction are they moving towards Mrs.  Caldwell? Will they obstruct your view of the corona?” Another…  “Will you see Bailey’s Beads? “.  They had done their eclipse homework and showed off the cereal box pinhole viewers they planned to use hours later when the sun would be 67% eclipsed on their playground.  When I hung up I hoped to be able to call back to my other classes through out the day. Unfortunately AT&T was ill-prepared to support the thousands of us trying to call, text and stream as the day unfolded.

Eclipse day breakfast was amazing. Camping neighbor Amirah made us a feast of French toast, scrambled eggs and sausage! Goodness I wish I had photo of that memorable meal!

After breakfast everyone scurried around in preparation for the partial and total phases of the eclipse.  We stretched out white sheets on the ground and put a sheet of white poster board across the car wind shield all to serve as a screen for pinhole projections of the sun as the moon moved across its face.  We readied our cameras and binoculars by taping solar filters over the lenses and made sure our eclipse glasses were handy to grab.  

At 9:06am PDT cheers and clambering broke out as the disc of the moon made “First Contact” with the sun. We were entering into the penumbra’s shadow.  As the eclipse progressed all ages frolicked about the campsites sharing telescopes, viewers and various pinhole projection techniques.

 Shadows had become sharper and everything seemed clearer and more focused.  It was beautiful yet weird.

My favorite frolick was using the colander Bev and Kay wisely packed to make dozens of tiny crescent suns. Future Tshirt design??

Like my sixth graders back in Texas I monitored the temperature from just before the moon started to traverse across the sun until just after totality.  I was shocked by the dramatic change.  The thermometer read 79 degrees Fahrenheit at the start and had dropped to 62 degrees after totality.

The dry high desert air was not holding heat as the sun slowly disappeared.

The exciting build up to the eclipse and the sense of community with others humbled by the natural world made totality when it at last happened all the more powerful.   Words still escape me and unexplainable tears flowed at the moment our sun disappeared.  Where the sun once shimmered a “black hole” now sat above me in a deep indigo sky.  An otherworldly glimmering white halo surrounded the hole.  Bright Venus emerged in the sudden darkness to the south.  Barely able to glance away I quickly scanned all the horizons to witness what resembled the dawn I had seen earlier.   The view below from my school’s Ricoh Theta S 360 degree camera shows everywhere sky and land met. It was like a 360 degree sunrise.

The cool air and surround sound shrills of excitement made this much more than the simple visual experience I had anticipated.

“Fleeting” was the one word Mr. Caldwell could mumble when the two minutes of totality had passed.  Sadly, I must agree his word was fitting. Gripped in the two minutes of totality you hoped it would never end but of course knew it must so photosynthetic life could continue on our planet.

Umbraphile? Yes.  I fell in love with being in the darkest shadow of the moon.   Will I seek it again?  Absolutely !  The bigger question is will you?  Where will you be in 2024 when the opportunity to experience totality comes again to America

Eclipse Eve Excitement 

The sweet sleepy town of Madras, Oregon (population 5,700) has been transformed as nearly 200,000 people from all over the world arrive to experience Nature’s big show. When we arrived on Friday the streets were wide open and restaurants with special limited menus were wondering where the predicted eclipse chasers were hiding.

Today we are feeling the frenzy!  We spent the morning at the Oregon Solarfest on the Jefferson County Fairgrounds and were treated to talks by NASA solar scientists, views through specialized solar telescopes and chats with fellow space geeks! We loved all the creative Tshirts that fellow eclipse chasers were sporting.  Streets were bumper to bumper in the center of Madras. Cheery entrepreneurs were on every corner with eclipse themed merchandise.  Shop owners were selling out of eclipse glasses, magnets, soaps, post cards, jewelry and so much more!This small central Oregon town that has painstakingly planned for every possible scenario is realizing what it had anticipated today.   We are grateful for their creativity and hospitality!!After driving north bumper to bumper with the happiest traffic bound crowd I’ve ever witnessed, we are now settled in to our tiny two man tent sandwiched between serious ” glampers” on the front row of the eclipse in Solartown. “Solartown” is a farmer’s field that sits right on the centerline of the path of totality just north of the Madras town center.  The field is now an ocean of over 6,000 tents and RVs filled with excited wannabes and real astronomers.  Some of the campsite telescopes are huge! Kind, real astronomers are allowing us wannabes to observe our sun in its full disc glory.  We stared in awe at a whole cluster of sun spots and even a solar prominence! Beautiful snow capped Mount Jefferson looms in the background of our campsite and Mount Hood stands out across an alfalfa field looking north.  The stunning eclipse eve sunset brought truly Madras colored skies and was a perfect preview for tomorrow’s main feature. 

Tomorrow morning we plan to wake up for sunrise and share coffee with our new forever eclipse friends… Kay and Beverly camped on our right and Marek, Amirah and Stephen to our left.   Our camp chairs are already in position facing east over the green field. Our colanders, eclipse glasses, and pinhole projectors are at the ready…..  Clear skies!!! 

    Eclipse Trip: Flying West 

    I recently discovered the word umbraphile while sponging up everything on the World Wide Web about solar eclipses.  It isn’t in any official dictionary…yet.  I don’t know for certain if I will become one of these or not but I strongly suspect that after August 21,2017 at 10:21am PDT that umbraphile will be a new label I carry.   I will let you read on to discover the implied meaning of this undefined word :). 

    Per the USA Today I picked up at George Bush Intercontinental airport this morning it appears that clear skies will prevail in Madras, Oregon allowing Mr. Caldwell, myself and the other 100,000 Oregon Solarfest visitors the opportunity to experience a total eclipse of the sun!  You should grab this weekend edition of USA Today. It would be great for an eclipse scrapbook or time capsule.  The full page infographic is awesome. 

    Just reading about totality has me borderline umbraphile! I can’t imagine what it will actually be like to be in the moon’s narrow umbra shadow and witness day turn into night for two peculiar minutes.  I”ve heard even seasoned NASA heliophysicists quoted as saying “words cannot describe” the feelings that come over them when they experience totality.   This of course has me a bit anxious as I am a total solar eclipse newbie and it is my hope to share all of this eclipse excitement with you … through a word filled Blog!  

    I am currently on a United flight, exit row aisle across from Mr. Caldwell. The two nice people to my right are from Houston and are also traveling west to “totality” experience The Great American Eclipse.  They have the same Bill Nye Solar viewing glasses that I have!!  

    Lucky them, they are staying with family that live on a 50+ acre farm in the Oregon Williamette Valkey.  That sounds like it will be a much more intimate encounter with totality than what Mr. Caldwell and I are expecting at Oregon Solarfest.  We are imagining something more along the lines of a music festival gone science.   The concert line up doesn’t look as stellar as the line up of the celestial spheres. Wink. Wink.    

    Solarfest Link
    So after too much coffee I am thinking about this plane flying at 503 mph to Portland, OR.  Sounds fast.  Right?  Not so fast.  The moon’s umbra shadow will make landfall on the coast of Oregon on Monday at 9:04am PDT and race eastward at roughly 2,000 mph (land speed slows a bit as the shadow moves east due to the Earth’s geometry.)  The moon’s shadow will cross our nation rushing off the South Carolina coast in just 90 minutes.  In Madras we will have a wee 2 minutes and 2 seconds to stand in awe of the Sun’s corona and experience totality.  No blinking!

    It’s taking this plane four hours to travel half the distance the moon’s shadow will travel in an hour and a half.   Lest you think that at 2,000ish mph the moon is equivalent to some sort of cosmic sports car, take note of spaceship Earth’s speed.  We ride planet Earth orbiting around the sun once every year (365.25 days) at 67,000mph!!

    Well that is all this teacher blogger has for now.  I think I might join Mr. Caldwell in a pre-eclipse nap. 

    Clear skies!


    Get Eclipsed… On August 21st. 

    As most of you are aware from a previous post, Mr.Caldwell and I are traveling to our chosen spot in the high desert of Madras, Oregon to experience “totality” during the Great American Eclipse. We are excitedly anticipating the opportunity to experience all the sights, sounds and feels as our sun is fully blocked by the moon  for about 2 minutes. Link to…  Totality Awesome!

    But, on Monday, August 21, 2017,  if you are properly prepared,  you can “get eclipsed” too!  That is because our sun will be at least partially eclipsed by the moon from the viewpoint of every state in the U.S.  This rare opportunity has not occurred since 1918!!


    The percentage that the sun will be partially covered varies depending on your proximity to the pathway of  eclipse totality.  For example,  if you live in San Francisco 76% of the sun will be covered by the moon’s shadow,  87% in Chicago and 67% here at home in the Houston metropolitan area.


    Timing matters!  You will need to do some research based on your location on August 21st so you know when to step outside, put on your eclipse safety glasses and stare in awe.  This fantastic link from Time and Date allows you to type in your city name to search exact times and sun coverage at your location    Link To Time and Date Searchable Eclipse Map

    In Houston, the eclipse starts at 11:45am CT with maximum coverage (67%) at 1:16pm and the eclipse ending at 2:45pm.   When you check out the Time and Date weblink, run the animation to see how the partial eclipse will actually appear for its duration….weather permitting of course! Here is a link to a Houston KPRC Channel 2 eclipse news report…Click2 Houston ~ August 21 Eclipse  Many spots in Houston are offering eclipse viewing “parties”.  Even our local Woodlands library on Lake Robbins has an event scheduled that day!


    SAFETY FIRST!  Looking at the sun anytime is dangerous because its harmful UV rays can permanently damage our eyes.  Instinctively (it hurts!), we don’t stare directly at the sun when we are out enjoying a beautiful sunny day.   However, during a partial eclipse, we will want to stare at the sun to observe the movement of the moon across it.  This is NOT SAFE unless you are wearing protective ISO 12312-2 rated eclipse glasses. Prepare!! You should purchase these NOW as they are selling out quickly from online retailers. Purchase only from NASA approved suppliers:  American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only), Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical, and TSE 17 to insure you have the quality necessary to fully protect your eyes. Follow the directions on the glasses for the safe amount of time you can view the sun directly.  Amazon was carrying the American Paper Optics brand that I’m trying out. As of today they still have supplies.  As soon as you get your glasses, go outside and look at the sun with them.  It is pretty cool to just see what the sun normally looks like and then you will have that knowledge for comparison to the eclipse.  If clouds are passing by they will cast a shadow on the sun too.Mrs. Caldwell in Eclipse Glasses

    Since most of you will be at school during peak eclipse viewing time you should plan ahead by alerting the teacher for the class you will be in during the eclipse.  It could be great fun to help your teacher with a lesson that includes taking the class outside for a mini field trip!  Of course, if you are lucky enough to be in a science class at the time of the eclipse, getting your class outside to experience the wonder of such a rare natural phenomenon will likely only require a simple suggestion to your instructor.  But, for other subject areas you made need to offer up some ideas for making your “field trip” an educational experience.  Perhaps a language arts teacher could have you reflect in your writing journal on how seeing your sun’s light partially blocked makes you feel? You could write a poem?   An art teacher could have you create a visual representation of your experience using water colors? Perhaps with a social studies or history class you could research the impact of total eclipses on ancient civilizations? Did you know that in 585 B.C. a war in what is today central Turkey came to an abrupt end when a total solar eclipse was seen as a sign for peace? I’m sure there are more interesting stories that could be researched by inquiring minds! Maybe you can have a few pairs of eclipse glasses that your class can share or get even more energized and make a few cool pinhole viewers for indirect observations of the sun by you and your classmates. They are cheap and easy to make.


    You don’t have to be in the moon’s narrow umbra shadow to be a part of the Great American Eclipse on August 21st, but you do need to plan and be prepared if you hope to “Get Mooned”.   Stay curious and Never Stop Questioning!!