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.
WHERE TO FIND SHELTERS
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.
LOST, FOUND AND INJURED ANIMALS
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.