In The Odyssey, Homer wrote, “the Sun perished out of the heavens” on Odysseus’s return to his queen Penelope. Some scientists believe that epic eclipse was April 16, 1178, B.C.
In the Book of Amos, the biblical prophet preached that God warned, “I will make the sun go down at noon and I will darken the earth in broad daylight.” The great Assyrian eclipse occurred on June 15, 763 B.C.
On Monday, August 21, 2017, A.D., most of North America will be cast into darkness in the middle of the afternoon as the continent experiences the widest sweeping total solar eclipse in 99 years. Scientists and the merely curious alike are eagerly anticipating an event of legendary and Biblical proportions.
“For most people, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Dr. Gary Senn, director of the Ruth Patrick Science Education Center at the University of South Carolina Aiken. “The moon will go between Earth and the sun during the daylight hours, and people on Earth will see the moon blocking the sun.”
The last time a total solar eclipse was visible in the contiguous United States was 1979, seen in only ve northwestern states. Residents of Hawaii had
a chance to experience a total eclipse in 1991, but the last time a transcontinental total eclipse crossed most of America was in 1918.
“If you’re not in the path of totality, get there!”
Everyone in North America will be able to see at least a partial eclipse on August 21, but
the so-called “path of totality” – where the sun is entirely blocked out by the moon – stretches 2,000 miles across 14 states along a very narrow band from Lincoln Beach, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina.
“Here in the CSRA, we are extremely close to the path of totality,” Dr. Senn said. “Two miles from USC Aiken is the edge of totality, where people will see at least a few seconds of the total eclipse.”
However, a short drive east into the country or a bit farther into the capital city of Columbia, North into Greenville or South to Charleston will yield a breathtaking view of the eclipse in all its glory.
“We’re telling people, if you’re not in the path of totality, get there,” Dr. Senn said. “Don’t stay in Aiken. It’s a shame to be this close and miss the totality.”
Traveling to a nearby viewing site will offer at least two minutes of absolute total darkness during the eclipse. The Ruth Patrick Science Center website has published a chart listing the exact times of totality for areas such as Wagener, Ridge Spring, Batesburg-Leesville, and Columbia, all of which will see at least two minutes of total darkness.
Columbia expects up to one million onlookers
The greater Columbia area has been dubbed “The Total Eclipse Capital of the East Coast.” City of officials are nervously anticipating the arrival of perhaps as many as one million curious onlookers, according to estimates crafted by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).
NASA estimates that the sun will be totally eclipsed in the Columbia area for 2 minutes and 36 seconds beginning at 2:41 p.m. on August 21. Greenville will be in total darkness for 2 minutes and 10 seconds, and Charleston will be in the path of totality for only 1 minute and 30 seconds.
“Only totality reveals the true celestial spectacle: the diamond ring, the sun’s glorious corona, strange colors in our sky, and seeing stars in the daytime,” wrote Michael Bakich, senior editor of Astronomy magazine.
Strange phenomena will occur
Viewers of the great solar eclipse of 2017 can expect to see numerous strange phenomena:
• the expected 2 minutes of total darkness
• various light effects around the sun, including the layer of plasma, called the corona, and momentary light reflections through moon craters, called “the diamond ring”
• stars and bright planets such as Mars, Jupiter, Venus, and Mercury visible
• temperature drops of up to 15 degrees
• nocturnal animals emerging from hiding
• birds roosting and stopping their chirping
Special eclipse activities to enjoy
The South Carolina State Museum in Columbia is planning a special Total Eclipse Weekend, culminating in viewings at its observatory, a talk
by South Carolina native astronaut Charles Duke, who walked on the moon in 1972, and other special events.
Gravatt Camp and Conference Center, located off Wire Road, also is directly within the eclipse’s path of totality. On August 21, the camp will host a day-long celebration of the eclipse, with boating, disc golf, and other family activities leading up to the mid-afternoon moment of totality.
“We’ll have some of our people there, with goods from our Science Store, an art contest, and more activities provided by USC Aiken,” said Dr. Senn.
The Ruth Patrick Science Center is not planning any special events of its own, as the staff and other astronomers on the USCA campus are expected to travel to various sites within the path of totality.
Be prepared for an “overwhelming spectacle”
Veteran eclipse watcher Dan McGlaun, who is also a member of Columbia’s Total Eclipse Weekend Committee, has witnessed 12 total solar eclipses and publishes a website called Eclipse2017.org. He said of those who choose to watch outside the path of totality, “Even if the sun is 99.9 percent eclipsed for these observers, they will not experience the full, jaw-dropping, knee-buckling, emotionally- overloading, completely overwhelming spectacle that is the totality.”
The Columbia Fireflies minor-league baseball team is even planning a 1 p.m. game against the Rome Braves in the midst of the total eclipse.
Use special equipment to view the eclipse
While the total eclipse will be an exciting event for many skywatchers, scientists are urging caution while viewing the celestial show. “You do need to be safe because you can damage your eyes permanently if you’re not careful,” Dr. Senn said. “Even with just a sliver of the sun peeking through, the sunlight can damage your eyes.”
The Ruth Patrick Science Center store at USCA is offering eclipse glasses, specially designed to filter out the damaging rays, for only $2.
Those planning to watch the eclipse through a telescope should have the instrument equipped and calibrated with proper solar filters; Dr. Senn urges consulting an experienced astronomer or veteran skywatcher for guidelines on safely watching the eclipse through a telescope or camera lens.
“For astronomers, it’s a special event because, during a total solar eclipse, it’s the only time you can see the corona of the sun without special instrumentation,” Dr. Senn said. “At the point of totality, people should take the glasses off briefly because, at that point, you will see the corona of the sun. You’re safe for a short time because the damaging light is gone and you’re seeing the fainter light that’s off in space.”
In Aiken and Augusta proper, which are not in the path of totality, Eclipse watchers should never remove the protective sunglasses because the eclipse will never achieve totality in these cities. Viewers a bit farther to the east, however, will experience all the stunning visuals of a total eclipse – weather permitting, of course.
Pray for good weather
“August in South Carolina means a lot of clouds and possible thunderstorms,” Dr. Senn said. “A
year ago, on the same date, the entire state of South Carolina was clouded over and most of the state had storms. That wasn’t encouraging, but the day after was perfect. So we’re hoping that this year, the weather will be good.”
Dr. Senn said that if the weather forecast on this August 21 is not inviting, he is personally prepared to drive as far as Kentucky to view the spectacular celestial event. “I’m going to follow the sun,” he said.
Wherever folks in South Carolina choose to watch the Great Eclipse of 2017, they should savor the moment. The next time a total eclipse will be visible in the Palmetto State will be in 2078.
So on Monday afternoon, August 21, step into the darkness and enjoy.
Tony Baughman is a writer, broadcaster, actor and filmmaker who has lived in the Aiken area almost his entire life. His professional experience includes seasons as a writer and editor at the Aiken Standard, as publisher and editor of The Citizen News in Edgefield and as managing editor of the Times- Gazette in southern Ohio. He has hosted popular Oldies and Beach Music Radio shows on WKSX 92.7FM, and he has recently served as associate producer for independent films produced by New Daydream Films of Charlotte, N.C.