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Flashback Friday: 1979 total solar eclipse at PNNL

Former staff recall the spectacle, wonder of being in path of totality

News Brief

August 18, 2017 Share This!

  • A photo, retrieved from PNNL's historical archives, shows how the Feb. 26, 1979 total solar eclipse appeared above Richland, Wash.

  • The lead story on the Jan. 26, 1979, Greenie, the weekly newsletter for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff at the time, prepares staff to observe the Feb. 26, 1979 total solar eclipse, which overshadowed PNNL's campus.

  • A photo from the Feb. 23, 1979, Greenie, the weekly newsletter for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff at the time, demonstrates how people could safely view the Feb. 26, 1979, total solar eclipse.

  • A story in the Feb. 23, 1979, Greenie, the weekly newsletter for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff at the time, describes how PNNL staff and their families were preparing for the Feb. 26, 1979 total solar eclipse.

  • A story in the March 2, 1979, Greenie, the weekly newsletter for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff at the time, quotes various staff on their experiences observing the Feb. 26, 1979, total solar eclipse, which passed directly over PNNL's Richland, Wash., campus.

  • A two-page spread in the March 2, 1979, Greenie, the weekly newsletter for Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff at the time, displays photos of the Feb. 26, 1979, total solar eclipse, which passed directly over PNNL's Richland, Wash., campus.

  • A photo, retrieved from PNNL's historical archives, shows how the sun above Richland, Wash., appeared on Feb. 26, 1979 as it approached a total eclipse.

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RICHLAND, Wash. — When the contiguous United States' last total solar eclipse overshadowed the nation's Northwest corner nearly four decades ago, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory staff gathered early in the morning to experience it together.

The eclipse reached totality over Richland, Wash., at 8:17 a.m. on Feb. 26, 1979. PNNL retiree Eugene "Gene" Carbaugh was at the Department of Energy's nearby Hanford Site at that moment.

"I think the site pretty much ground to a halt as everyone seemed to be outside watching," Carbaugh told PNNL this week. "As the sky darkened, we were astounded by the silence that came over the area as the usual noises seemed to stop (and) be replaced by an awe-inspiring silence and then nocturnal noises."

It wasn't quiet everywhere, however. PNNL's campus was surrounded by alfalfa fields, which attracted many birds.

"The thing I remember most was the geese," PNNL retiree Terry Doherty recalled this week. "When it darkened, the geese began honking and lifting into the air in confusion. It was noisy and funny ... and a bit distracting to the main event."

Others took it in from PNNL's old Rattlesnake Mountain observatory, from which staff used to conduct astronomy and atmospheric research. PNNL retiree Graham Parker remembers getting a special pass to bring his wife Priscilla and their two children, Melanie, then 6, and Stacey, then 3, to the observatory.

"When the sun was blocked out, the temperature immediately decreased about 10 degrees," Parker said this week. "You could feel it."

The Greenie, the staff newsletter at the time, relayed then-secretary Virda Tarr's experience from Rattlesnake Mountain.

"It was spectacular," The Greenie quoted Tarr as saying. "I was jumping up and down and cheering just like everybody else. There were so many telescopes and cameras everywhere and people were running in and out of the observatory."

A total solar eclipse is returning this coming Monday, Aug. 21. This time around, PNNL is just outside the path of totality. But Richland, Wash., will see 96 percent of the sun blocked by the moon at 10:23 a.m. And PNNL staff will again gather to celebrate science's wonder and create new memories together.

Tags: Fundamental Science, Atmospheric Science

PNNL LogoInterdisciplinary teams at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory address many of America's most pressing issues in energy, the environment and national security through advances in basic and applied science. Founded in 1965, PNNL employs 4,400 staff and has an annual budget of nearly $1 billion. It is managed and operated by Battelle for the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Science. As the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, the Office of Science is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information on PNNL, visit the PNNL News Center, or follow PNNL on Facebook, Google+, Instagram, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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