So it begins: Eclipse dims the sun over U.S., creeping toward totality

Eclipse watchers spread out at Oregon Solarfest in Madras beneath the sun in a smoky sky. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

MADRAS, Ore. – The solar spectacle that eclipse fans have been planning to see for years is finally happening, with the total phase just around the corner.

The moon began covering up the sun over Oregon just after 9 a.m. PT, with thousands of cameras equipped with solar filters trained on the sight.

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Over the next few hours, the moon’s shadow will streak eastward from Oregon to the coast of South Carolina, delivering the first all-American total solar eclipse in 99 years.

Totality turns day into night and reveals the faintly glowing corona around a blacked-out sun. But that part of the phenomenon can be seen only from a 70-mile-wide path where the shadow is deepest.

Authorities in Oregon made plans for more than a million travelers to swoop into the state for totality, in part because central Oregon had the best chance of clear skies based on historical data. And in fact, the only thing dimming the skies over Oregon was the smoke from wildfires.

“Throughout southern and eastern Oregon, there are numerous fires that are contributing to smoke in various locations,” Jeremiah Pyle, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s Portland office, told GeekWire.

Traffic tie-ups in the state weren’t as bad as some had feared, although more serious problems were reported in other parts of the country.

Partial eclipse
The moon’s disk obscures a bite of the sun as seen in the hazy skies over Madras, Ore. (GeekWire Photo / Alan Boyle)

Seattleites will see up to 92 percent of the sun’s disk covered, dimming the skies to about the level of sunset at the 10:20 a.m. PT peak. Observers who are off the path of totality should use approved solar filters whenever they look at the partial eclipse, to protect their eyes from injury.

A NASA research plane and a specially chartered Alaska Airlines jet took off from Seattle this morning to get the first guaranteed cloud-free glimpses of the eclipse from aerial vantage points off the coast of Oregon.

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