The long-awaited total solar eclipse is coming up Monday, Aug. 21 — but before then, local residents can get a sneak preview of what to expect at the Tigard Public Library.
Scientist Roy Torley will give a presentation at the library next Wednesday, Aug. 16, on eclipses. During his program, he will show photographs and short videos of solar and lunar eclipses, which are related celestial phenomena but appear very different from one another.
"I will be focusing on solar eclipses, lunar eclipses and other types of eclipses seen throughout the Solar System, and that includes transits of Mercury and Venus across the Sun, and the few eclipses we've seen on Mars of Phobos crossing the Sun, and on one occasion, the moon Phobos eclipsing the other moon Deimos," Torley told The Times.
Torley has been busy lately. A guest speaker with Elder Audience and former community college instructor, he speaks at senior centers, assisted living facilities, libraries and other places around the Portland area — basically, wherever there is an audience.
"I do regard myself as a scientist, but more as an expositor … where I explain the science to people," Torley said, noting that he has a Ph.D and is not a researcher. "I get more of a kick out of explaining things to people and seeing the eyes sparkle."
He added, "The universe is full of wonders, and it's my pleasure to help present it to you. That's what I do."
These days, the upcoming eclipse is the hottest topic Torley has to handle. Although he is a geologist by training, he is well-versed in astronomy as well and enjoys talking about it. A solar eclipse is a particularly special event, he said.
"Once you've seen it, you will never forget it, and you'll get a sense that something of universal proportions will have just happened," Torley said, likening it to "a religious experience."
The shadow of the Moon will pass directly over Salem at about 10:18 a.m. Aug. 21 before continuing east into Central Oregon and eventually sweeping across the continental United States.
"If you're north of McMinnville, you'll be out of what's called the 'path of totality,' and you'll see the Moon covering most of the Sun," Torley said.
Within that path of totality, though, the Sun will be totally obscured by the Moon for about two minutes. To observers on the ground, it will appear for a short time as though night has fallen in the middle of the morning.
The rare celestial event is expected to draw thousands of tourists to campgrounds and other outdoor spaces in Oregon. It has sparked its share of promotions as well; the Salem-Keizer Volcanoes, a minor league baseball team whose stadium is in the path of totality, is even playing a special morning game that will be interrupted for observation of the eclipse.
During a solar eclipse, observers are strongly cautioned to wear certified eclipse glasses, which act like very powerful sunglasses, blocking out light from the Sun that can cause permanent eye damage within seconds to someone staring directly at it without protection. The Portland area will not experience totality, meaning that the Moon will not completely block the Sun from view at any point during the eclipse. Even staring at just part of the Sun can lead to eye damage.
As part of Wednesday's program, the Tigard Library will be giving away free pairs of eclipse glasses. Supplies are limited.
The program will cater to a broad audience, said Paula Walker, a communications coordinator for the Tigard Library.
"We say 'for adults,' but you know, teenagers and older children will be fine, too," Walker said.
Torley's 90-minute program, "Eclipses and Other Occultations," will begin at 7 p.m. on Aug. 16.
The last total solar eclipse visible from the continental United States occurred in 1979. The next will take place in 2024, but its path will cross the Midwest and Northeast only, coming nowhere near Oregon.
Lunar eclipses are considerably more common, last longer and can be seen anywhere on the night side of the Earth. However, they are much less visually striking, characterized by the Moon appearing to darken and turn a reddish shade due to the Earth itself blocking the light from the Sun that normally reflects off its surface.
The Tigard Library has a book list of recommended reading about the solar eclipse for anyone wishing to learn more.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with a link to the Tigard Public Library's list of books recommended as advance reading on the solar eclipse.
By Mark Miller
Assistant Editor, The Times
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