The Great American Eclipse with the Caltech Associates
As the Great American Eclipse on August 21, 2017, captured the imagination of Americans across the country, a group of 53 Caltech Associates President's Circle members, faculty, and staff experienced an exclusive adventure with Caltech professors Mike Brown and Paul Asimow.
In the summer of 2015, the Associates learned that Mike Brown, the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy, was planning a family vacation to Oregon to view the 2017 eclipse. No time was wasted in convincing him that he should bring along a few Associates members to share in this historic celestial event, one last seen across the United States 99 years ago.
Oregon is a geologist's playground, so Paul Asimow, the Eleanor and John R. McMillan Professor of Geology and Geochemistry, agreed to be our faculty lead on the second portion of the trip, traveling from Bend to Portland. Once advertised, the trip sold out within 72 hours, and close to 20 members were added to a wait list.
With millions of visitors scheduled to descend upon the small town of Bend, Oregon, the Associates staff planned for the unknown. Weather and traffic were both unpredictable aspects, but fun was sure to be had with the great group of travelers, including Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum and his wife, Katherine Faber, Simon Ramo Professor of Materials Science; Caltech trustees Ted Jenkins ('65), Phil Neches ('73, '83), Peter Norton, and Charlie Trimble ('63); Associates past board presidents Lynda Fetter and Ilene Marshall; Associates board members Ginger Caldwell, Chip Fairchild, Susan Murakami ('75), and Karen Roberts ('74); and Brian Lee, vice president for Development and Institute Relations, among others.
Upon arrival in Bend, where terrible regional wildfires had recently hit, a smoky haze filled the typically clear blue skies. Mike Brown had been analyzing the situation with smoke- and wind-predictive modeling programs, however, and by contacting various eclipse-chaser experts in the area. He decided that we would scrap existing plans, escape the smoke, and drive east in pursuit of the perfect eclipse-viewing location.
On the cold pre-dawn morning of Monday, August 21, our group boarded a charter bus at 3 a.m. and headed east of Bend. We had a smooth two-hour drive without interference from traffic. With no cell service, Mike had to communicate with the bus driver via walkie-talkie, directing him to park on a shoulder off the road in the Ochoco National Forest. All we had to do then was wait (and sleep a little).
As the sun rose at around 6 a.m., some travelers started to set up their telescopes, cameras, and eclipse-viewing spots, while others explored the area by hiking into the forest and climbing up mountain peaks.
The partial eclipse began at 9:16 a.m., and we were warmed by the sun's rays. We donned our eclipse glasses, approved by the Astronomical Society, and gazed up to the sky to take in the solar views. Just before 10:19 a.m., Mike shouted, "Keep your glasses on! Keep your glasses on!"—the temptation was strong to look directly at the sun, as only a tiny sliver of it remained. Then the light dimmed, the sky turned dark, temperatures dropped by three degrees, and Mike called, "Glasses off!" We were in the chilling moment of totality.
We all stared up at the moon hiding the sun, except for its glorious corona, a white glowing ring. Our one minute and 52 seconds of totality was sensational—definitely worth waking up at 3 a.m. to experience. In the darkness, you could see planets and stars in the sky and the sunset behind you. After the final moments of totality, it was quickly no longer twilight. The slice of light reappeared, and the sun once again lit up the sky and warmed the air.
While we enjoyed the eclipse in reverse, we popped champagne and toasted Mother Nature and the celestial phenomenon. Despite Mike's many sleepless nights, he positioned us for an experience of pure joy and wonder that built a special camaraderie among the travelers.
The adventure did not end with the eclipse. We traveled from Bend to Portland, stopping at such iconic spots as Mount Hood, Multnomah Falls, and Vista House, each brought to life by Paul's expertise. Our final day was spent exploring the lively city of Portland, with site visits at Jaguar Land Rover for a panel discussion about how Portland is preparing for the future as an innovation incubator city and at the new Cultural Village at the Portland Japanese Garden for a private architecture tour. The day would not have been complete without boxes of Voodoo Doughnuts, breaks at local distilleries and coffee roasters, and a farm-to-table lunch at the award-winning Clarklewis Restaurant.
On our final evening, aboard the Willamette Star for a dinner cruise, President Rosenbaum made some closing remarks, sharing a quote from Virginia Woolf: "How then does light return to the world after the eclipse of the sun? Miraculously. Frailly." President Rosenbaum explained that this quote "not only captures the physical experience, but it captures a lot of our own experience in terms of traveling together as the Associates. It really is a miracle, in a lot of ways, the camaraderie that builds to being associated with a great institution, but I think we also have to remind ourselves that this is very frail. One cannot take it for granted; it takes effort, it takes commitment, it takes dedication, and it takes remembering what our history means." Rosenbaum noted that he was struck by how "just after totality, you saw the sudden blue dot and the rim of sun emerge, and it was red. Then you looked around and it was no longer twilight. It was only a very small part of the sun that actually had to be uncovered to be back to daylight, but it does come one ray at a time. And so, staying in touch with the fact that one person at a time adds to our efforts to create friendships and to move forward, I think, is an extraordinary lesson from this travel."
A few more adventures were had along the way, but you'd have to ask one of the travelers for the inside scoop. But for now, you can enjoy photos from the trip here.