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Total eclipse of the sun

Mark your calendars for this once-in-a-lifetime experience

A total solar eclipse is about as bright as the full moon ??" and just as safe to look at. But view it only through special-purpose eclipse glasses or handheld solar viewers. Photo courtesy Mark Margolis / Rainbow Symphony

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On Aug. 21 at 10:15 a.m., a total eclipse of the sun will touch down on the Oregon coast and begin its move across the country covering a 40-mile swath. Within this band, you can experience the totality of the eclipse, which is the point when the sun is completely covered. Oregon has the best weather prospects along the eclipse path. Cool, yes?  Well, unless you made your plans five years ago and thought to book a hotel or want to brave I-5 South with hundreds of thousands of others, some from as far as British Columbia, you are out of luck -- or so I thought.

"We'll get ninety-four percent of the eclipse in Tacoma," said Matt Wakefield, communications manager for Travel Tacoma + Pierce County. "It'll start at 9:08 a.m., reach peak at 10:20 a.m. and be done at 11:38 a.m. It'll be in the east/southeastern sky at about forty degrees of elevation. We've heard that hundreds of thousands of people could be passing through Tacoma on their way to Oregon to see the eclipse, and they'll be fighting traffic and astronomical prices for that one hundred percent view. Here in Pierce County, we'll have a ninety-four percent view with no hassles. That's great for us, and for visitors who decide that last six percent isn't worth the time, money and aggravation of heading further south. We hope they choose to stop here, have a beer, enjoy the solar show and stay a night or two before heading home."

Before deciding where to view the eclipse, order your eclipse glasses. These look like the paper 3D glasses you get at a movie theater, but they are extremely important. You can damage your eyes permanently without proper protection, and homemade filters or even very dark sunglasses will not protect the eyes. The safe way to view the eclipse is through special-purpose eclipse glasses that meet ISO 12312-2 international standards for these products. There are many sites online where you can purchase these glasses, but personally, I am not going to trust my eyes to just anyone.  The website offers glasses for sale that are made in America and meet all required safety standards.

So where to watch? Consider getting out on the water.  Rent a kayak at Foss Seaport and paddle toward Ruston Way. Watch the eclipse, then have lunch at one of the many restaurant options there before heading back to the seaport. Another option is Jack Hyde Park, Metro Parks Tacoma, which has a sundial. Mount Rainier seems like an obvious spot, but the weather is tricky. Crystal Mountain's viewing party has already sold out, and I would expect lots of traffic. If you don't feel like driving, consider the parade field at Joint Base Lewis-McChord; it has a great view of Mount Rainier in the morning as the sun comes up.

For more information about the total eclipse or the local 94-percent eclipse, check out  Lastly, if you still think you need that 100 percent, visit the state of Oregon Office of Emergency Management site at and look at the news release about the eclipse.  I opt to stay local.

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