Portland, Oregon: A partial solar eclipse of the sun, the first stage of a rare “ring of fire” eclipse that is expected to cut across the Americas, began to emerge Saturday morning.
NASA's livestream of the phenomenon showed the moon starting to cover the sun in Eugene, Oregon, at 8:08am local time.
For the small towns and cities along its narrow path, there was a mix of excitement, worries about the weather and concerns they'd be overwhelmed by visitors flocking to see the celestial event, also called an annular solar eclipse. Clouds and fog threatened to obscure the view of the eclipse in some western states, including California and Oregon.
Viewing all depends on clear skies
Members of a crowd at the Eugene Science Center in Eugene were desperately wishing for the clouds on the horizon to clear. Dozens of people set up telescopes and cameras with special filters in the hopes of capturing the celestial event.
Shuumei Kodama, 11, woke up at 4:30am to make the drive from Portland, Oregon, with his dad. Eclipse glasses in hand, he explained that he’s been obsessed with space since he was 5.
“It seems like one of the coolest things I’ve ever heard of,” he said of the annular eclipse. “I want to see every type of eclipse possible one day. That’s my goal.”
Unlike a total solar eclipse , the moon doesn’t completely cover the sun during a ring of fire eclipse. When the moon lines up between Earth and the sun, it leaves a bright, blazing border.
Saturday’s path: Oregon, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas in the US, with a sliver of California, Arizona and Colorado. Next: Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia and Brazil. Much of the rest of the Western Hemisphere gets a partial eclipse.
The celestial event brought eclipse watchers from around the US to remote corners of the country to try to get the best view possible. At Bryce Canyon national park in southern Utah tiny lights could be seen along a well known trail that snakes through a valley of red rock hoodoos as eclipse enthusiasts hit the trail before sunrise to stake out their preferred spot.
“I just think it's one of those things that unites us all,” said John Edwards, a cancer drug developer who traveled alone across the country to try to watch the eclipse from Bryce Canyon. “I just think it's seeing these unique experiences that come rarely is what got me here. This is about as rare as it gets.”
Viewing all depends on clear skies — part of the US path could see clouds. NASA and other groups planned to livestream it.
Coincides with balloon fiesta
Tens of thousands were getting a double treat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the eclipse coincided with an international balloon fiesta that draws close to 100,000 spectators for early morning mass ascensions of hundreds of colorful hot air balloons. Organizers gave out 80,000 pairs of viewing glasses Saturday morning.
Allan Hahn of Aurora, Colorado, has been attending the festival for 34 years, first as a crew member and then as a licensed balloon pilot. His balloon, Heaven Bound Too, was one of 72 selected for a special “glow” performance as skies darken during the eclipse, where pilots use their propane burners to light up their balloons on the field.
“It’s very exciting to be here and have the convergence of our love of flying with something very natural like an eclipse,” he said.
Viewers on the East Coast were prepared to see less of the event — close to a quarter eclipse around midday in some areas, such as New York City — but were nonetheless geared up to watch the skies. In Maine, viewers expected to see only about 12% of the sun covered, but the Clark Telescope on the grounds of the Versant Power Astronomy Center at the University of Maine was open to the public.
The planetarium was selling safety glasses for $2 Saturday to encourage safe viewing, said Shawn Laatsch, director of the Versant Power Astronomy and the Maynard Jordan Planetarium
“As the Moon passes between the Earth and the sun, it casts its shadow on our planet,” said Laatsch. “In a very real sense, solar eclipses are ‘made in the shade’ of the moon.”
Colombia’s Tatacoa desert was playing host to astronomers helping a group of visually impaired people experience the eclipse through raised maps and temperature changes as the moon blots out the sun.
At the Cancun Planetarium, young visitors built box projectors to indirectly and safely view the ring of fire. The ancient Maya — who called eclipses “broken sun” — may have used dark volcanic glass to protect their eyes, said archeologist Arturo Montero of Tepeyac University in Mexico City.
Towns and national parks in the path braced for a huge throngs. Officials in Oregon's Klamath County urged residents to stock up on groceries and fill their gas tanks in case traffic backs up on its two-lane highways. Utah's Bryce Canyon expected Saturday to be the park's busiest day of the year, spokesperson Peter Densmore said. Brazil's Pedra da Boca state park, known for its rocky outcrops for climbing and rappelling was also expecting crowds.
The entire eclipse — from the moment the moon starts to obscure the sun until it’s back to normal — is 2 1/2 to three hours at any given spot. The ring of fire portion lasts from three to five minutes, depending on location.
Next April, a total solar eclipse will crisscross the US in the opposite direction. That one will begin in Mexico and go from Texas to New England before ending in eastern Canada.
The next ring of fire eclipse is in October next year at the southernmost tip of South America. Antarctica gets one in 2026. It will be 2039 before another ring of fire is visible in the US, and Alaska will be the only state in its direct path.