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Tips for Eclipse Watching

For more PD coverage of the eclipse go here

Sonoma County residents will be privy to a partial eclipse, and can expect about 80 percent of the sun to be obscured, just before 10:15 a.m. on Monday, August 21.

Safety First: You can do serious permanent damage to the retina of the eye if you look at the sun without a special solar filter or glasses. It can lead to blindness. Homemade filters or even multiple layers of sunglasses, will not protect your eyes. Use special certified safe “eclipse glasses” or solar viewers. Glasses certified by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), have gotten hard to find. Beware of fakes. Amazon has issued a recall of potentially fake glasses. The American Astronomical Society has issued a list of reliable dealers of safe glasses at Eclipse.aas.org/resources/solar-filters. Some major chains like 7-Eleven, Lowe’s and Walmart, were selling them. NASA recommends eclipse views make sure the ISO certification number 12312-2 and the manufacturer’s address are printed on your viewing glasses.

Lenses need filters too: You will also need special solar filters to view the eclipse through a telescopes, binoculars or a camera. The filter will both protect the lens from intense sunlight and ensure you don’t accidentally look at the sun through an unfiltered instrument. Lenses make things brighter so they will intensify an already searing level of light without a filter. Alas, solar filters have also become hard to find. Shutterbug camera shops in Sonoma County have completely sold out of all solar filters for telescopes, binoculars and cameras, and reports that manufacturers also have depleted their inventory so they are unlikely to receive any new shipments.

Clouds, on Monday morning, will not be your friend. So to increase your odds of a clear view, take a hike. There is no way however, of predicting how high you’ll have to go to get above the fogline since it can vary depending on the morning.

Tree Filters: NASA astrophysicist Lynn Cominsky, who teaches at Sonoma State, suggests finding a tree and using its leaves as a filter. During the eclipse, observe the shadows on the ground beneath the tree. The leaves will act like a pinhole camera, projecting little crescent images onto the ground. Better yet, find a tree beside a wall and watch the crescents projected onto the surface like a screen.

Unplug: SRJC astronomy teacher Laura Sparks recommends unplugging from your computer and smart phone. Instead of worrying about capturing the event for social media, ditch the distractions and just experience the moment.

— Watch the eclipse live online from the Path of Totality at NASA.org.

Laura Sparks has been waiting for Aug. 21, 2017 for more than 10 years.

When she switched majors from physics to astronomy in 2006 and started learning about eclipses, Sparks marked her mental calendar for 11 years in the future, to what has been dubbed, “The Great American Eclipse.”

Now the time has finally arrived. For about a brief time on Monday morning, along a large swath of the United States stretching from Oregon to South Carolina, the sun will appear to go out, completely hidden behind the moon. Encompassing parts of 14 states, this key zone has been dubbed “The Path of Totality.” Anyone within this 70-mile wide path will experience a total eclipse of the sun. The rare celestial event means that people are hitting the road in huge numbers this week to find their place not in the sun, but in the vast shadow. Sonoma County residents can expect about 80 percent of the sun to be obscured just before 10:15 a.m. Monday morning.

Sparks, who teaches astronomy at Santa Rosa Junior College, will be among those making the trek to be in the path of totality.

“Lunar eclipses are more common. When a lunar eclipse happens, you can see it from anywhere on earth, that is, at night,” she said. “The whole half of the planet gets to see a lunar eclipse. But with a solar eclipse, you have to be in the right place.”

Sparks has pinpointed Madras, Oregon, a tiny dot on the map east of the Cascades that has been identified as one of the top viewing spots in the path. Set in the high desert of central Oregon, the small town, population 6,200, will be cast in 2.02 minutes of darkness, An estimated 100,000 people are expected to flow into the town, which is freeing up parks, parking lots and farms for the hordes of eclipse-seekers.

“I’ve never seen a total solar eclipse in my whole life,” said the 36-year-old Sparks, who has booked a tiny wedge of camping space in a Little League field. “We humans take a lot of things for granted subconsciously, and one of those things is the constancy of the moon and the sun. When the sun goes completely dark in the daytime, you can describe it to people. But it affects people in a way they maybe wouldn’t expect.”

What makes this solar eclipse even more unique is that it can be viewed by such a massive area of the United States.

Lunar eclipses are fairly common and are widely experienced by an entire hemisphere at nighttime. But a complete solar eclipse is more rare. And this particular eclipse is rendered even more rare because it will be visible to such a large area of the United States, cutting diagonally across the continent, coast to coast. The last total eclipse in the U.S. was 26 years ago and was visible in Hawaii only. The last total eclipse to pass through the Continental United States was in 1979.

If you haven’t already booked your accommodations in The Path of Totality — all state park campgrounds in Oregon are full and campsites in hot spots like Madras are going for $300 and up on eBay — you’re not necessarily out of luck. Private landowners and farmers, whether good Samaritans or seeing a good financial opportunity, are freeing up space for temporary campsites on their properties or in their parking lots.


Shelters have been set up for people and their pets at the following locations:

— Santa Rosa Veterans Memorial Building is accepting evacuees and small pets.

— Finley Center in Santa Rosa is accepting evacuees and small pets, but may be full at this time.

— The Sonoma County Fairgrounds is accepting people and pets.

— Petaluma VFW Post 1929 (pets allowed), 1094 Petaluma Blvd. South, Petaluma

Large animals are being accepted at the following:

— Sonoma County Fairgrounds, 1350 Bennett Valley Road

— Sonoma Valley High School FFA, 20000 Broadway, Sonoma

— Sonoma Ukiah Fairgrounds, 1055 N. State St., Ukiah

In all cases, people must remain with their pets.


The Sonoma Humane Society’s shelters in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg have some resources available for pet owners who have been displaced by the fires: crates, food and pet supplies. They are open to take in strays and injured animals. They are not able to board animals at this time. Sheltering space must be reserved for animals displaced by the fire.


Sonoma County Animal Services is open and onsite 24/7 until further notice at 1247 Century Court, (off of Airport Boulevard) in Santa Rosa, accepting lost/found animals. Large animals/livestock should go to Sonoma County Fairgrounds. Found animals are being posted on their Facebook page. Additionally, they are offering no-cost veterinary services for medical treatment for animals affected by the fires.

A mobile unit is also onsite at the evacuation center located at Veterans Hall in Santa Rosa.

Animal services is greatly in need of the following donations:

Water bowls (any size), disposable lasagna pans (for cat/kitten litter), animal food, including: sweet mix for horses or goats, egg layer for chickens, pig feed, dog and cat food (wet or dry — any brand) and grass hay for all, grain buckets, baby/wet wipes. Donations can be dropped off at 1247 Century Court (off of Airport Boulevard) in Santa Rosa.

For more information about available services and donations call 707-565-4406.

Hipcamp, an Airbnb-like website for camping and other low cost and alternative accommodations, from cabins and Airstream trailers to treehouses, has several places within the Path of Totality in Oregon, that still have availability.

“There are plenty of spaces. We added over 1,000 new sites in the Path of Totality in Oregon last week,” said Alyssa Ravasio, founder and CEO of Hipcamp.

The Novato native and avid camper who was prompted to create the site after realizing there was no central listing for camping, said she believes the best place to view the eclipse is somewhere in the great outdoors. She recommends going a day or two early and getting in touch with nature before the big crowds assemble.

“The power of the eclipse is an awe-inspiring experience in nature. And if you’ve been outside for a couple of days you’re going to be that much more in tune,” she said. “You don’t want to be just coming off the road after two hours in traffic.”

If you can’t break away this weekend, or can’t bear the thought of getting stuck in a traffic jam, you can still see a partial solar eclipse from The Bay Area. It will be about 80 percent in the North Bay, where people are making plans to hit the water or hike to higher elevations in hopes of snagging the perfect spot.

Laurie Manarik of Point Reyes Outdoors, is organizing kayak adventures into Tomales Bay to view the eclipse from a south-facing beach.

“We’ll have all the pertinent gear. You just need to show up, dressed appropriately, with a willing attitude,” Manarik said. “But if we feel the viewing is going to be better out on the bay we’ll go out there.”

A light lunch will be served on the beach before the group heads back. As of publication, there were still a few spaces left for the $94 per person outing (415-663-8192 or pointreyesoutdoors.com).

Although a lot of people are warning that the coast is a risky spot for viewing because of the fog, Manarik said she is confident, based on recent weather conditions in West Main, that the cloud cover will be gone by 10:15 a.m.

Aside from seeking out a location where it’s likely to be clear — probably not the coast — it really doesn’t matter where you go to see the eclipse in Sonoma County, experts say. Unlike night viewing where you want to be clear of lights, a solar eclipse can be seen from the ground or atop a mountain, in nature or in the middle of a city. Just make sure you wear certified safety glasses for viewing the sun. People have been scooping them up in the past few weeks so they’ve become hard to find. The Sonoma County Library was giving out free glasses but ran out within a week. And Shutterbug Camera stores have also been cleaned out of all their solar viewing glasses, as well as special solar filters for cameras, telescopes and binoculars, said Francis Sarg, a manager of the Santa Rosa store.

The Valley of the Moon Observatory Association however, has held back about 200 pairs to give out at their viewing parties Monday morning in Old Courthouse Square in Santa Rosa and at the Ferguson Observatory in Suglarloaf Ridge State Park in Kenwood.

Volunteers who have not fled the state for the Path of Totality will be on hand in both locations with several solar telescopes between 8 a.m. and noon Monday to help people view the eclipse safely.

“We’re going to have three telescopes set up and we’ll manage the lines as best we can and ask people to be considerate of those who are waiting,” said Steve Smith, a volunteer with the association.

For those who want a little bit of Wine Country glamor to their viewing, some wineries are offering special tastings. Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol will be popping open its Brut X, an ultra dry, 2013 vintage with an appropriately black label, said CEO Joy Sterling, She said they will have a few pairs of glasses on hand but said people should bring their own. To make an appointment visit Ironhorsevineyards.com.

Meadowcroft at Cornerstone in the Sonoma Valley, also will offer a special solar eclipse tasting Monday morning, moving through different wines as the moon moves across the sun. ($15 a flight. No reservations necessary (meadowcroftwines.com).

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at meg.mcconahey@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5204.

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