Solar eclipse fever is sweeping the United States.
Millions of people are expected to view the Aug. 21 eclipse, when the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth, casting a shadow. All of North America will experience at least a partial eclipse.
» Visit NASA’s eclipse website to get more information. The site has an interactive map you can use to zoom in and pinpoint where in the path of totality you want to visit: eclipse2017.nasa.gov.
The event is rare because many solar eclipses, which occur about once every 18 months, are over the ocean. This eclipse, in particular, is special because the last eclipse to pass from coast to coast in the U.S. was in 1918.
The Tri-Cities region is about two hours from the path of totality.
More than 12 million people live in that path, according to Great American Eclipse, a website dedicated to eclipse information. Tennessee is the closest location of the path of totality for more than 55 million people.
Great American Eclipse anticipates anywhere from 360,000 to 1.4 million people will visit the Volunteer State for the event.
During the eclipse, the otherwise hidden solar corona, the sun’s outer atmosphere, will be visible, according to NASA. Bright stars and planets, such as Venus, will become visible. Birds will fly to their night-time roosts. Nocturnal insects such as cicadas and crickets will buzz and chirp.
“It’s an experience you’ll never forget,” said Ray Bloomer, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at King University in Bristol, Tennessee. “When it gets totally dark at 2:38 in the afternoon, it’s really strange.”
Here’s a guide to equip yourself with eclipse know-how:
With only a 70-mile band of totality, a lot of people are going to be using interstates and highways to get in on the fun.
Tennessee will likely see an influx of out-of-state travelers.
“The ‘Eclipse Across America’ is a once-in-a-lifetime event, where everyone in North America, including Alaska and Hawaii, will experience the eclipse in some form,” said Martha Meade, manager of public and government affairs for AAA in a news release. “If you’re planning to travel to the path of totality, we recommend you have a plan – select a destination, map out a route, book lodging and allow plenty of travel time. These efforts will help ensure you are ready and in place ahead of this late-summer event.”
Adam Thanz, planetarium director at Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium in Kingsport, Tennessee, cautioned against going to big public parks, such as Great Smoky Mountains National Park, because they will likely be swarming with people. Many parks stop letting people in once they’ve hit capacity.
He suggested leaving several hours before the start of the eclipse, as traffic will be heavy.
“You’re going to want to do a little research ahead of time,” Thanz said.
Will I see a complete solar eclipse?
The path of totality, which is the area where the sun will be completely blocked out, stretches about 70 miles.
In Tennessee, the center of that path will cross over several cities, including Cross Plains, Gallatin, Gordonsville, Sparta, Spring City and Athens. In those cities, the duration of the full eclipse will last the longest — about two minutes and 40 seconds.
The farther you get from that center line, the shorter the duration of the full eclipse will be. Every state in the contiguous U.S. will see a partial eclipse, with the percentage of obscuration decreasing the father you get from the path of totality.
What will it look like in the Tri-Cities?
Bristol is about a two-hour drive from the path of totality.
Thanz said that means Bristol will experience about 96 percent obscuration, “which is pretty good, but it’s not totality.”
This means that slivers of the sun will still be visible at the edges, even when the moon is covering most of the sun.
Bloomer, the King professor, said this area will still see the cusp of the sun, which will look like an inverted smile.
In the Tri-Cities region, the eclipse will start at about 1:07 p.m. As time goes by, the moon will cover more and more of the sun. The maximum eclipse, when 96 percent of the sun is blocked, will occur about 2:36 p.m.
By 4 p.m., the sun will be completely visible again.
What makes the event unique?
The last total solar eclipse to cross the U.S. from coast to coast happened in 1918. The next solar eclipse to hit anywhere in North America will be April 8, 2024, when the path of totality will cross though Texas, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and on through Canada.
Want to help NASA?
Calling all amateur astronomers and scientists: NASA wants help with data collection for the eclipse.
The space agency has plenty of online tools and programs for people it calls “citizen scientists.”
You can observe clouds and air temperature; test the ionosphere with radio activity, monitor animal activity and much more.
Visit NASA’s eclipse website and click on the “Citizen Science” tab: www.eclipse2017.nasa.gov.
Need eclipse viewing glasses?
You’ll want to act fast. Many places, such as Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium, have already sold out. Some stores, such as Lowe’s, have been selling them, too, although they may disappear once stores sell out.
NASA’s website also lists the glasses that are safe and certified to purchase.
Everyone with knowledge of the upcoming eclipse stresses the same point: eye protection.
Looking directly at the sun during the eclipse is unsafe except during the brief phase when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality, according to NASA.
Even staring at a partial eclipse for a few seconds will damage your eyes.
If you’re not leaving the Tri-Cities area to get within that path, you can never look at the eclipse without protection because slivers of the sun will still be visible.
The only safe way to look directly at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun is through special-purpose solar filters, such as “eclipse glasses.”
NASA notes that homemade filters or ordinary sunglasses, even very dark ones, are not safe for looking at the sun; they transmit thousands of times too much sunlight.
Below are some tips from NASA for staying safe during the moon madness:
» Always inspect your solar filter before use; if scratched or damaged, discard it. Read and follow any instructions printed on or packaged with the filter.
» Always supervise children using solar filters.
» Stand still and cover your eyes with your eclipse glasses or solar viewer before looking up at the bright sun. After looking at the sun, turn away and remove your filter — do not remove it while looking at the sun.
» Do not look at the uneclipsed or partially eclipsed sun through an unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or other optical device.
» Similarly, do not look at the sun through a camera, a telescope, binoculars, or any other optical device while using your eclipse glasses or hand-held solar viewer — the concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and enter your eyes, causing serious injury.
» Seek expert advice from an astronomer before using a solar filter with a camera, a telescope, binoculars or any other optical device. Note that solar filters must be attached to the front of any telescope, binoculars, camera lens or other optics.
If you are within the path of totality, remove your solar filter only when the moon completely covers the sun’s bright face and it suddenly gets quite dark. Experience totality, then, as soon as the bright sun begins to reappear, replace your solar viewer to look at the remaining partial phases.
» Outside the path of totality, you must always use a safe solar filter to view the sun directly.
» If you normally wear eyeglasses, keep them on. Put your eclipse glasses on over them, or hold your handheld viewer in front of them.
According to Mother Nature Network, pets will likely have a mild to non-existent response to the eclipse.
There’s a chance dogs or cats will be confused or frightened, but the darkness doesn’t last long, so it should pass quickly.
“On a normal day, your pets don’t try to look at the sun, and therefore don’t damage their eyes,” said Angela Speck, director of astronomy at the University of Missouri, at a recent news conference with NASA. “On this day, they’re not going to do it, either. I’m not going to worry about my cat.”
Even so, you’ll want to keep your pet leashed if you’re outdoors or with a big crowd during the eclipse, according to the network.
Eclipse events in the region
» Bays Mountain Park and Planetarium
The planetarium itself will be closed during the day of the eclipse, but you can check out a film about the eclipse for the next week.
Visit the park’s planetarium until Sunday, Aug. 20 to see “Totality,” a film about the eclipse that was produced in-house at the planetarium.
» Buchanan County Public Library
The library invites the public to view the 2017 solar eclipse safely, enjoy hands-on space and science activities and watch a cool space video from 3:30-5:30 p.m.
There is no charge to participate. All ages are welcome.
» Damascus Public Library
On the day of the eclipse, Monday, Aug. 21, the library will show NASA’s live-streamed coverage of the solar eclipse. Anyone is welcome to visit and watch the coverage. The Damascus branch library will hold a solar eclipse viewing party.
» Cherokee National Forest
Forest officials are anticipating an influx of visitors for the eclipse.
National forest campgrounds and other facilities, as well as high elevation locations, are expected to be at capacity prior to and during the event, according to a news release.
The southern portion of the forest [The Ocoee Ranger District and Tellico Ranger District] will fall within the path of totality.
Some forest locations have rough dirt or gravel roads leading to them with limited access, parking, crowd capacity, traffic flow and no sanitation facilities or water. Visitors should expect many locations to be heavily visited and congested.
Many campsites in developed campgrounds are available on a first-come, first-served basis, but some can be reserved in advance online at recreation.gov or by calling: 1-877-444-6777.
» Russell County Public Library
On Aug. 21, from noon to 4:30 p.m., come view the eclipse on the library’s big screen. No special glasses are necessary, though the library will have them if you want to go outside and view the partial eclipse.
» Washington County Public Library
Dr. James Warden will present a program on the science behind a solar eclipse and tips for safe viewing on Thursday, Aug. 17 at 7 p.m.
Warden is an emeritus associate professor of physics at Emory & Henry College.
A limited number of free eclipse viewing glasses will be available to those who attend the program.