Western N.C. towns will put on festivities for a total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, a day in which Carolinians in a 70-mile-wide path can watch darkness displace sunlight in a rare celestial spectacle.
The shadow of the new moon will black out the sun across the continent from Oregon to South Carolina in the first coast-to-coast eclipse in the U.S. in 99 years. The last total solar eclipse seen in North Carolina and South Carolina was 1970. The path ran along a narrow band in the eastern part of the states.
The total eclipse will turn bright day into near-night for up to 2 minutes, 36 seconds in heart-of-darkness towns of Andrews, Brevard, Bryson City, Cherokee, Franklin and Sylva and S.C. cities Greenville, Columbia and Charleston.
Stars will come out. Birds will stop singing. Temperatures will drop. Motorists will turn on headlights.
Eclipse-viewers will need to don special protective glasses or use other safety precautions since viewing an eclipse directly without proper equipment and techniques can cause retina damage.
Falling on a Monday, the eclipse will begin around 1:05 p.m for the Carolinas. Outside the path of totality, people will see a partial eclipse. Most of the Carolinas will get a 90 percent or greater obscuration, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. During the eclipse, Earth, moon and sun will be in direct alignment.
In Charlotte, the moon’s shadow will cover a maximum 98 percent of the sun at 2:41 p.m. In Raleigh, coverage will be 93 percent at 2:45 p.m. The eclipse ends about 4 p.m.
Bernard Arghiere of Asheville, who has seen three total solar eclipses, said daylight will dim, like that of a cloudy, stormy day.
“It’s going to be magical,” Arghiere said. “It’s going to be dark. You’re going to see the (blacked-out) sun with the corona splashing all around it. A big halo, a splash of white light around the sun.”
The corona is the sun’s outer atmosphere.
“It’ll get dark enough to see some of the brightest stars and four planets, Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury.”
Arghiere, past president of the Astronomy Club of Asheville, described the darkness as that of late dusk – not midnight – because of sunlight flooding in from beyond the 70-mile-wide path. He urged people to get as close to the eclipse’s centerline as possible for the most spectacular viewing. The centerline runs through Andrews, Dillard, Ga., Clemson, S.C., Lexington, S.C., and McClellanville, S.C.
Falling on a Monday, the eclipse will begin around 1:05 p.m for the Carolinas. Outside the path of totality, people will see a partial eclipse. Most of the Carolinas will get a 90% or greater obscuration, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. During the eclipse, Earth, moon and sun will be in direct alignment.
In Raleigh, the moon’s shadow will cover a maximum of 93% of the sun at 2:45 p.m.; coverage will be 98% in Charlotte. Arghiere said daylight will dim, like that of a cloudy, stormy day. The eclipse ends about 4 p.m.
Anticipating tens of thousands of eclipse tourists, towns like Sylva in Jackson County are planning festivities, designated viewing sites and concerts.
“We’ve got people coming from the UK and France and from New York and Philadelphia,” said Nick Breedlove, executive director of the Jackson County Tourism Development Authority. He said a fourth to a third of motel rooms in Sylva already have been booked. He advised viewers to come the day before and bring camp chairs and picnic lunches. The eclipse reaches totality at 2:36 p.m. and will last nearly 2 minutes.
To say it’s a rare event locally is an understatement. Jackson County’s last total eclipse occurred in the year 1506; the next one is due in 2153, according to Enrique Gomez, associate professor of astronomy and physics at Western Carolina University.
In Bryson City, Great Smoky Mountains Railroad will offer an “Eclipse Train” that will arrive in Dillsboro in time to see the total eclipse.
Cherokee plans special events called the Cherokee Cultural Eclipse Celebration Aug. 20-21. In Cherokee tradition, an eclipse is caused by a giant frog swallowing the sun or moon. To scare the frog away, people made loud noises during the eclipse, according to www.visitcherokeenc.com.
In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 1,325 tickets for a grand viewing with speakers and telescopes on 6,643-foot-high Clingmans Dome sold out in five minutes.
The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute near Brevard, also at Ground Zero, will host 800 dignitaries and guests, including 300 amateur astronomers, some from as far away as Italy, says the nonprofit’s website.
Columbia is pitching itself as the “Total Eclipse Capital of the East Coast” because the city will experience 2 minutes, 36 seconds of blackout beginning at 2:42 p.m., longer than any metro area on the eastern seaboard.
In Charleston, cruise boats and yachts are offering eclipse-viewing trips in Charleston Harbor for the final display of totality on the continent before the 2017 eclipse heads out to sea.
Want to know more? See https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov
It is never safe to look directly at the sun – even if it’s partly obscured, according to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. To safely watch a partial eclipse, wear specially darkened eclipse glasses at all times. This applies during a total eclipse up until the time when the sun is completely blocked.
Only during the short time when the moon’s shadow completely obscures the sun, is it safe to look at the sun. Put the glasses back on before the total eclipse ends and the partial eclipse resumes.
Do not use ordinary sunglasses. Purchase NASA-certified eclipse glasses. Follow the procedures for eye safety at https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.