Editor’s note: This article was originally published on August 2. It has been updated, most recently on August 21, with additional information.
On Monday, August 21, the Pacific Northwest caught a glimpse of a rare astronomical event: a total eclipse, caused when the moon moves directly between the sun and the earth.
The closest place to see totality—that is, where the moon completely blocks the sun—was in Oregon. But those that couldn’t make it down to Oregon at 10 a.m. on a Monday morning or didn’t want to face the traffic still saw a show worth watching.
How much of an eclipse did we see in Seattle?
“The eclipse will fantastic in Seattle,” University of Washington astronomy professor Bruce Balick told Curbed Seattle over email earlier this month, “as [opposed] to outrageously eerie in central Oregon.”
In the Seattle area, we saw roughly 92 percent coverage, depending on where in the city limits the eclipse was viewed from.
“The sun will appear as a shining fingernail when the eclipse is at maximum,” said Balick. “You don’t see that every day.”
Here’s what Balick said to expect during maximum eclipse: “The birds will roost as the sky darkens, sleep for a few moments, and then get up and start their next day. The horizon will glow all around you, roughly like [sunset]. You may attempt a brief yawn yourself. Mars will be about one fist above the sun, and Venus will be easily visible 60 degrees above the southern horizon.”
“Deep darkness lasts only a few moments,” he added.
In Seattle, while we weren’t plunged into the same darkness as in the line of totality, the world still seemed to dim for a second. It got chillier, too: The National Weather Service (NWS)’s Seattle chapter says at their SeaTac station, they measured a temperature decrease of 5 degrees.
What time did the eclipse start?
The eclipse begin began Seattle around 9:08 a.m. on August 21, and peaked at about 10:22. The whole thing was over at about 11:38 a.m.
In the path of totality in Oregon—where the moon completely blocked the sun—the partial eclipse will started around 9:06 a.m., peaking at around 10:15 a.m.
What was the weather like on eclipse day?
One potential hiccup of watching in Seattle: Our weather isn’t always the best.
While historically cloud cover can go either way on the morning of August 21, we just had a slight fog in valleys and over the water in the morning—and Seattle had a clear view of the event.
Viewing the eclipse safely
While it’s safe to look directly at an eclipse during totality, it’s “incredibly tempting but highly dangerous” to look directly at the sun during a partial eclipse—like the time leading into the total eclipse, or like the partial eclipse we saw in Seattle. Looking through a camera, binoculars, or telescope can make it that much worse.
“If you have ever fried bugs with a magnifying glass then you can image the damage to your retina if you look at any part of the Sun directly,” explained Balick. “The eclipse simply isn’t worth a permanent blind spot.”
Balick had a few other ideas. “A leafy tree will work for forming eclipse images on the ground or a wall that are very safely viewed,” he said. “Or you can use your fingers.”
The finger method involves placing one hand over another with slightly-open fingers to create kind of an organic pinhole box.
Seattle put many of these viewing methods into action, from protective eyewear to using a cheese grater as a pinhole camera.
When’s the next one?
The next total solar eclipse visible from Seattle will be in 2169, and the next visible to us at all won’t be until Spring of 2044, so there’s not a super high chance of any Seattleites alive today catching a total eclipse at home.
The next one in the United States won’t be until April 28, 2024, traveling between Texas and Maine.
- Solar eclipse 2017: Will Seattle weather behave? [CS]
- Solar eclipse 2017: Where to watch in the Seattle area [CS]
- A solar eclipse is coming to America. Here’s what you’ll see where you live. [Vox]
- A Guide to August’s Rare Total Solar Eclipse [Seattle Met]
- Don't blindly trust companies selling solar eclipse glasses on Amazon [The Verge]
- Build a Solar Eclipse Viewer [National Geographic]
- Experience the Eclipse [Pacific Science Center]
- All solar eclipse coverage [CS]