Total eclipse fans have marked Aug. 21 on their calendars
Throughout history, solar eclipses have been viewed as omens or portents, and you can see why: When the sky inexplicably darkens for a couple of minutes in the middle of the day, you might start to wonder why — and you certainly could be forgiven for thinking that, well, this can’t be good.
To name just one historical example, consider Louis the Pious, the third son of Charlemagne: After witnessing a solar eclipse in the year 840, Louis reportedly became convinced it was a sign that God planned to punish him. Louis died of fright shortly thereafter, plunging the kingdom into civil war.
Portents don’t always signal gloomy times: The Greek historian Herodotus tells of the Battle of Halys in 585 B.C. between two warring nations, the Lydians and the Medes. During the battle, a solar eclipse occurred. The warriors took it as a sign that the gods wanted the war to end. They laid down their arms and negotiated a cease-fire.
Going back for many centuries and across many cultures, astronomers have been trying to figure out the mysteries of these celestial events — and actually doing quite well at not just cracking the mysteries, but beginning to predict, with considerable accuracy, the next eclipse.
Nevertheless, celestial events of this magnitude always trigger fresh portents, and this summer’s total eclipse, coming on Aug. 21 won’t be any exception.
In fact, we’re now just coming to grips with the fact that the solar event is certain to draw at least tens of thousands of people (and, quite likely, more) to Oregon’s mid-valley. That’s because a big part of the mid-valley is smack dab in the middle of the so-called “path of totality.” Which is another way of saying that viewers in this area will experience a total eclipse, for up to two minutes.
Tourism experts and astronomy buffs, among others, have been pointing to Aug. 21 as a red-letter day for more than a year, and now the rest of us are starting to piece together what a huge deal this will be. Hotel rooms in the mid-valley have been booked for more than a year. (There have been reports that some hotels have canceled previous reservations and put those rooms up for rent for thousands of dollars a pop, a practice which has been called to the attention of the state attorney general.)
In the meantime, officials from agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service and the Oregon Department of Transportation are working through some of the challenges inherent in dealing with thousands upon thousands of people descending upon the mid-valley.
For example, consider this potential transportation challenge: The eclipse makes landfall in the United States near Newport. You can imagine there might be an appeal to watching the event from the shores of the Pacific Ocean — but not so much if the day dawns foggy and cloudy on the coast.
Here’s what will happen then: Thousands of potentially disappointed eclipse fans will hop into their cars and head for some location with clear skies. The potential implication there: bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 20 from Newport to Corvallis.
Similarly, Marys Peak or other public lands would appear to be great places to view the eclipse — but we won’t all fit on Marys Peak. How to manage those crowds? For that matter, how do we make sure that our public lands don’t get trampled by the hordes?
Our guess now is that the opportunities afforded us by the eclipse will far outweigh any hassles. But we do well to prepare now for this event. And we look forward to that moment, just a few months from now, when we all look to the skies to witness a moment that has enraptured watchers through the millennia.