EnviroStudies.net > Historical > Solar Eclipse 1979

Solar Eclipse of Feb. 1979

Southern Washington
by Carlos Portela

This page provides a written account of viewing the total solar eclipse on the 26th of February 1979. Our viewing position was in southern Washington, on a ridge on the eastern side of the Cascade mountains, west of Toppenish, and WSW of “Union Gap” (a gap in a mountain range that was lower than the ridge we were on).

The eclipse was not too early in the morning. We had plenty of time to look around before totality. I mostly looked down into SE Washington east of us.

Highway Contrails

An interesting phenomenon I noticed was that the paved highways in SE Washington, viewed from above that morning, had a strip of partially transparent white smog/fog over the pavement – a long linear cloud, taller than automobiles and wider than the pavement (as wide as Union Gap). That may not have been noticable at street level, other than perhaps the sky appearing less blue, but could have potentially reduced clarity of the eclipse totality for viewers on or near the pavement.

It would be interesting to find out if that phenomenon still occurs, and why it occurred. Perhaps it was a combination of vehicle exhaust pollution and water vapor (like jet contrails).

Clear Weather

There were no clouds, at our site, or in SE Washington below. The air was still, with no wind. The temperature was not cold. There was no frost or snow. Southeast Washington below may have been cooler (winter inversion).


During totality, the sun was a crisp clear circle of flames.

All we knew about watching a solar eclipse was that totality would happen. It turned out there was much more to see!

Before totality, a large shadow edge approached. Part of the sky turned black, and stars appeared in the black part of the sky, yet there was still a lot of blue sky, with orange along the interface between the areas of blue sky and the area of black sky with stars.

Shadow of the Moon

The shadow of the moon on the ground had a very sharp edge. We could see the other (trailing) edge of the shadow approaching our site, marking the end of totality when the trailing shadow edge hit.

Not long after, it was incredible to watch the elliptical shadow of the moon glide across SE Washington. This again was not something we had been told to look for.

We have learned that other eclipses may not have the additional feature of a sharp shadow edge on the ground, and may not have the additional feature of Rayleigh scattering sharply juxtapositioned with black sky and stars. We recommend that persons viewing eclipses look for these additional features in case they are present.

Other Accounts of this Eclipse

Wolfgang Muhle, Oregon
Landscape rendering (synthetic photo) of what
the southern shadow edge looked like in Oregon.

Mike Reynolds, Winnipeg
BW photograph of the shadow of the moon in the sky
during this eclipse in Manitoba (bottom of page).

Jeffrey R. Charles, Montana:
Sky Shadow Intro
Sky Shadow Images

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Friday, 26-Apr-2019 04:34:50 GMT