On Aug. 21, 2017, the Western North Carolina skies will turn a deep twilight. That’s ordinary — except, this time, you’ll see planets and stars around 2:30 p.m.
For roughly 90 minutes, you’ll see the moon nibble the sun, blocking out the mid-day light. It’s been 99 years since a total solar eclipse crossed the full contiguous United States, and the track of totality — complete lunar coverage — comes directly over North Carolina’s mountains. Other locations will experience partial coverage.
According to Amber Porter, Ph.D., a Clemson University physics and astronomy lecturer, the chances of another solar eclipse following this same path is unlikely.
“Globally, solar eclipses happen one to two times annually, so they’re not that rare,” she said. “But, it’s incredibly rare for one to come where you live — for the shadow to pass over you. They only hit the same spot on Earth once every 400 years.”
So, what will you see?
If you’re in partial coverage, the sun will dim, and you’ll see more shadows. But, it won’t be dark. Animals and plants will exhibit nocturnal behaviors — birds will roost, and flowers will close their petals. However, you’ll still see plenty of sunlight.
But, things are different in totality, Porter said. As the moon blocks the sun, a ring of beads, called Baily’s Beads, will appear. That’s sunlight peaking through the moon’s mountains, and it looks like a string of pearls.
With complete coverage, the sky will be 360 degrees of twilight. You’ll also see something you can’t see any other time — the sun’s corona. It’s only as bright as a full moon so the rest of the sun overpowers it during the day. In fact, just 1 percent of uncovered sunlight is more than 1,000 times too bright for the corona to be visible to the human eye. During totality, though, it peaks out around the moon’s edges.
Additionally, the temperature will drop, she said. For 10 minutes to 15 minutes, you’ll feel a10-degree to 25-degree dip, depending upon your location. Winds could also pick up enough to quickly move clouds across the sky.
Remember: it’s only safe to look at the sun during an eclipse if you’re in totality and the moon is completely covering the sun. At that point, you’re only seeing the corona. Otherwise, regardless of location, you must wear certified solar eclipse sunglasses.
There are several locations to view this once-in-a-lifetime event. See if one listed below is near you or check with the NC STEM Center for other eclipse events.
North Carolina State University College of Sciences
Time: 12:30pm to 4:00 pm
Location: 2 Broughton Drive; Raleigh, NC, 27695
Parking: Paid lots in Dan Allen and Coliseum Decks; metered spots on Hillsborough Street; free parking at Carter-Finley stadium off Trinity Road (free shuttles to Scott Hall stop)
Events: Event organizers have limited free solar sunglasses available, and there’s also a telescope outfitted with a filter. You can make do-it-yourself pinhole cameras, and the eclipse will also livestream on big screens. Additionally, citizen scientists will observe changes in animal behavior and the weather, as well as view physics demonstrations and a weather balloon launch.
Morehead Planetarium & Science Center
The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Time: Noon to 4:30 pm
Location: 250 E. Franklin St.; Chapel Hill, NC, 27514
Parking: Metered street parking; paid lots on Rosemary Street; Eubanks Rd or Southern Village Park and Ride (free Chapel Hill transit provided on NS route to Columbia Road and Franklin Street).
Event: The eclipse will livestream from an area of totality. Attendees can participate in eclipse-themed games and activities. However, the seated planetarium show and eclipse glasses are sold out.
Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Time: Noon to 5 pm
Location: 420 Anderson St.; Durham, NC, 27708
Parking: Paid parking ($2) in the Duke Gardens lot; other street parking available.
Event: The free event includes observation stations throughout the Gardens, as well as activities for all ages. Inside the Doris Duke Center, attendees can conduct experiments, watch the total eclipse via livestream, and take part in astronomy and Earth science-related activities. Eclipse glasses will be available on a first come-first serve basis.
Asheville Museum of Science
Time: Noon to 3 pm
Location: Pack Square, 80 Court Plaza; Asheville, NC, 28801
Event: With UNC-Asheville, Asheville City Schools and Buncombe County Schools, the museum is hosting a free event with music, food, and activities. Free eclipse glasses are available on a first come-first serve basis. Those who don’t want to attend downtown can view at Owen High School, N. Buncombe High School, and TC Roberson High School.
Time: 11 am to 4 pm
Location: 400 W. Hanes Mill Rd., Winston-Salem, NC, 27105
Event: The event is free to museum members and included with non-member admission prices. The first 100 attendees receive free eclipse glasses. Throughout the day, you can see science demonstrations, planetarium shows, and use professional telescopes. Bring your own cereal box to make a solar eclipse viewer to take home.
The Eclipse at Gorges
Time: August 19 – August 21
Location: Gorges State Park; Sapphire, NC, 28774
Event: Gorges State Park is North Carolina’s only park in the totality path. This free, three-day event includes an Eclipse Party on Sunday, featuring a discussion with Sharon Becker, Regional Director of Interpretation and Educational Programming for N.C. State Parks about eclipse science and history. The park opens at 5 am on Monday. Music, food trucks, and educational activities will be available, Additionally, two locations will livestream an above-cloud video provided by NASA.
Time: 12:30 pm to 3:30 pm
Location: 300 Airlie Rd.; Wilmington, NC, 28403
Event: Outside the eclipse path, this event still offers attendees viewing opportunities. Admission is $9 for adults, $3 for children, and $5 for New Hanover residents and military with ID. A wide variety of activities are available to learn about the eclipse, including a live weather satellite feed and opportunities to create your own solar eclipse and models that show the distance between bodies in the solar system.
By Whitney Palmer
17 August 2017