Next summer, the earth will cross the shadow of the moon, creating a total solar eclipse. For the first time in nearly 40 years, its path will pass through the continental United States. The event will occur on August 21, of 2017, and promises to attract a massive audience from around the world, as the eclipse sweeps across the sky from Oregon in the Pacific Northwest, makes its way Southeast, passes through Western North Carolina, and eventually beyond the coast of South Carolina.
Many people are already excited about the eclipse, many moons in advance. People like Bernard Arghiere, of the Asheville Astronomy Club. Arghiere has studied astronomy for the last 45 years, and has even witnessed the last total solar eclipse to cross America back in 1979.
“It was a very magical experience. It’s unforgettable. You definitely want to experience a total eclipse, not a partial eclipse, even if it’s 99 percent partial, totality is an experience that’s very different than partial. I explain to folks the difference between total solar eclipse and 99 percent partial eclipse, is like the difference between being pregnant and not being pregnant, so you really have to go experience a total solar eclipse.”
In a total solar eclipse, all sorts of natural phenomena occur, Arghiere explains.
“Daytime turns to night. The temperatures drop. You’ll notice a dramatic drop in temperature. You’ll even see some familiar stars and constellations in the sky… You’ll even see four planets in the sky. You’ll find Mercury and Mars rather close to the sun, but still visible off the edge of the sun’s outer atmosphere called the “corona”, and then of course, you’ll find Jupiter and Venus visible as well, buy they’ll be farther away from the sun.”
Next year’s astronomical event will also prove to be an educational experience, according to college physics professor Matt Cass.
“Here at Southwestern Community College we’re trying to coordinate an effort of all the mountain communities to provide a safe and educational viewing opportunity for everyone in Western North Carolina.”
On behalf of Southwestern Community College, Cass will be partnering with NASA in a program designed to promote STEM education—or Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Through this program, scientists will be dispatched to local viewing areas throughout the region to explain the eclipse to onlookers as it occurs.
“With NASA’s support, we will have subject matter experts on the ground to assist people during eclipse events. NASA has done us a great favor.”
In addition to education the public, Cass will be conducting experiments at the moment of totality with a number of his students, like tracking its path and measuring its luminosity. But it’s not just academics and science geeks who are excited about next year’s eclipse, Cass explains. The event promises to bring many so-called “eclipse chasers” to the area—or people that travel from far and wide to witness total eclipses—and they are booking hotels in communities across the nation that fall in the eclipse’s path of totality. Communities like Jackson County’s.
“Experiencing totality is such a rush that people get addicted to it, and they actually spend their life chasing it. Psychologists have studied the effects of a total solar eclipse on people and the addictive nature of it.”
And it’s precisely this which has every mountain community in the path of next year’s eclipse already beginning preparations for the event—including Macon, Jackson, Swain, Graham, Cherokee and Clay Counties. Last month, the Jackson County Planning Board met in Webster to discuss the matter, as officials there are anticipating a considerable draw to the area.
“In other destinations, they’ve recognized that the numbers range anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands,” that’s Nick Breedlove, director of Jackson County’s Tourism Development Authority. Breedlove began planning for next year’s eclipse months ago, after first hearing about it, and he maintains there’s no such thing as ‘enough planning’ for it, given its mass appeal.
“Locally, we hope to experience a great influx of people to experience this once-in-a-lifetime event. I think a more conservative estimate would be doubling our county population, which is what a lot of people in the meeting said today, so, you know we could have anywhere from ten to forty thousand additional people here in Jackson County for the eclipse.”
Regardless of whether you’ll be tracking the eclipse’s path, measuring its brightness or temperature, and no matter where you are observing it from, one thing that all viewers must do before observing next year’s eclipse is be ready. Because once it passes over the U.S. in midday, it will be travelling about 2400 miles per hour, and depending on where you are … it can last anywhere from one to two and a half minutes. According to astronomers, once it passes through Western North Carolina, it will be around 2:30 in the afternoon.
Lastly, having special protective eyewear for viewing the sun before and after the eclipse is essential, as the light from the sun can blind the eyes.
Those interested in learning more about next year's total solar eclipse may visit NationalEclipse.com or eclipse2017.org as online resources.