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What's The Big Deal With The Solar Eclipse? 7 Things To Know


This photo provided by Bob Baer and Sarah Kovac, participants in the Citizen CATE Experiment, shows a "diamond ring" shape during the 2016 total solar eclipse in Indonesia.

This photo provided by Bob Baer and Sarah Kovac, participants in the Citizen CATE Experiment, shows a "diamond ring" shape during the 2016 total solar eclipse in Indonesia.

R. Baer, S. Kovac/Citizen CATE Experiment

The time is almost here. On the morning of Monday, Aug. 21, many in America will collectively raise their heads to the sky to witness the first total solar eclipse in the region in 38 years. This time around, Oregon is ground zero and the state is preparing for a phenomenon that has been embraced by people from all over the world. Here are some key things to know before the solar eclipse completely covers our lives.

Why Do Total Solar Eclipses Occur?

The short answer? It’s a coincidence. The sun and the moon are the same angular size when viewed from the earth. The sun is 400 times wider than the moon and also 400 times farther away. This gives the illusion that they are the same size in the sky. Every now and again, the two cross paths in our sky. This amazing coincidence gives us what we call a total solar eclipse — when the moon completely blocks out the sun for a short period of time. 

It’s Safe To Look At The Eclipse … Kind Of

Urban myths are not based on science or common sense. Some believe that you can not look at a total solar eclipse with the naked eye. This is false.

When the sun is completely covered — also known as being in totality — the radiation from the sun is too weak to hurt the retina. Now, the minutes before the total eclipse and the minutes after can, in fact, be harmful to your eyes. But during the time of totality during this solar eclipse, it’s fine to look directly into its path.

But people should use eclipse viewing glasses or other eye protection to view the sun and the moon immediately before and immediately after the total eclipse.

Safety Is Key This Year

Safety is a big concern for the total eclipse. OPB’s “Think Out Loud” spoke with Andrew Phelps, director of Oregon’s Office of Emergency Management, about how the state is preparing for an influx of up to a million visitors to the cities and rural towns in the path of totality. If you are heading out to view the eclipse in Oregon, you may want to take a listen.

Start Planning Now

If you are reading this and think you have time to plan a big trip for this total solar eclipse, well, we hate to break it you but you’re probably wrong. Campsites and hotels were booked in record time, and many special viewing areas are already booked up as well.

What’s your next shot to witness an event like this? On April 4, 2024 a total solar eclipse will track northeast from Texas to Maine. Before this total eclipse, an annular eclipse will occur on Oct. 23, 2023, which will be visible from Northern California to Florida.

Oregon May Be Lit

No, we’re not talking about the scores of people coming into the state or the many different festivals going on in honor of the eclipse. Because of the number of people coming into Oregon, officials are worried that Oregon may be lit … on fire.

Many wildfires made by human ignition happen around holidays such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day. With so many people coming into Oregon for this event, the dry conditions and wind, coupled with human error, could be the perfect recipe for wildfires. Even tail pipes from the exhaust on cars can start fires in the rural and dry parts of Oregon. And a hot fact: About half of all wildfires are started by humans.

To The Max

The maximum amount of time that the eclipse will appear in totality is 2 minutes and 40 seconds in Carbondale, Illinois.

A Million Looks Like What?

Although in 2009, the inauguration of Barack Obama brought an estimated 1.8 million people to the National Mall, his second inauguration in 2013 (shown here) brought in an estimated 1 million people, around the same amount traveling to Oregon for the solar eclipse.

Although in 2009, the inauguration of Barack Obama brought an estimated 1.8 million people to the National Mall, his second inauguration in 2013 (shown here) brought in an estimated 1 million people, around the same amount traveling to Oregon for the solar eclipse.

Saul Loeb/AP

About 1 million additional people are estimated to drop into Oregon for the total solar eclipse and some small towns have been grappling for months on how best to handle the influx of eclipse chasers. But how big is ‘almost 1 million,’ people compared to other events? Here are a few events that may help you compare and contrast how packed or not the state will be come eclipse time.

  • March On Washington, 1963 — 250,000
  • Woodstock Arts and Music Festival, 1968 — 400,000
  • Million Man March, 1995 — 625,000
  • Barack Obama’s Inauguration, 2009 — 1.8 million
  • Portland Women’s March, 2017 — 100,000

All crowd numbers are estimates.

Also, per the United State Census Bureau, Oregon’s population was a shade over 4 million as of 2016. So an extra 1 million people in the state marks a 25 percent jump in population for a single event. 

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