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Charlotte Talks: The Carolinas Prepare For 'The Great American Eclipse'

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Get ready for the Great American Eclipse. It’s coming to a town near you. We’ll tell you when, where to get the best view and how to view it safely.

Excitement is building for a celestial event years in the making. On Monday, August 21st, the moon will pass between the sun and the earth, blotting out the sun over a huge swath of the country for a couple minutes in the middle of the day.

This is the first total solar eclipse to travel coast-to-coast across the U.S. in almost a hundred years. The eclipse will be partially visible everywhere, but not everyone will experience 100 percent totality of complete darkness. That’s spawning eclipse tourism with people traveling to towns within the 70-mile wide path of totality that stretches from South Carolina to Oregon.

We’ll talk with astronomers and others about the ‘Great American Eclipse,’ how to view it safely (never look at the sun without proper eyewear), about eclipse tourism, and find out how cities are preparing and communicating with the public about this epic astronomical event.

The 'Great American Eclipse' is Monday, August 21. In the Charlotte area, a partial eclipse will start at 1:12pm and peak at 2:41pm. 

Some highlights from the show:

Total solar eclipses are rare

Solar eclipses will happen somewhere on the surface of the Earth about twice a year. The rarity occurs because the location you can see a solar eclipse is very narrow. It’s been 38 years since we’ve had an eclipse that was visible from the continental U.S.

-Jack Howard, Solar System Ambassador for NASA

"It’s called The Great American eclipse because it only touches American soil. No other country in the world will be able to see totality in this eclipse. The last time that happened was in the year 1257, before we were even America."

-Kristen Thompson , Physics professor at Davidson College

What you’ll experience

“You absolutely need to protect your eyes. The moon will start to cover the sun from the right side and it’ll start with a partial eclipse. As the partial eclipse evolves it’ll start to get darker. It takes the shadow of the moon about 92 minutes to get from Oregon to Charleston. In the Carolinas that shadow will be moving across the surface at about 1,400 mph.  The moon isn’t a flat surface. Bailey’s beads occur when the light from the sun passes through the mountains and valleys of the moon’s surface. It will create a string of pearl like beads across the moon. That’s one of the first things you’ll look for just before totality. As totality progresses you’ll see the diamond ring, which is the very last valley that the sun is passing through creating a bright sport or faint ring around the moon.”

-Kristen Thompson, Physics professor at Davidson College

“As the moon blocks the sun it’s blocking the solar radiation that heads our atmosphere. So the temperature will drop in the Charlotte area. The first two things people will probably notice are Venus and Jupiter.”

-Jack Howard, Solar System Ambassador for NASA

Columbia will experience the longest total eclipse on the east coast for a metro area, branding itself the 'total solar eclipse capital of the east coast.'

“Totality will begin at 2:41 p.m. It will be about two minutes and thirty seconds. The state of South Carolina could see upwards of 1 million visitors coming to experience the eclipse.

-Andrea Mensink, Director of Communications for Experience Columbia SC

“Start a planning process and give yourself plenty of time. There is going to be a large crowd. We’re expecting a big jump in customers for our businesses.”

-Derrec Becker, Public Information Officer for SC Emergency Management Division

What we’re doing in the Carolinas

“NASA wanted to have some official viewing sites and several locations volunteered for that. The Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute (PARI) is one of those locations. PARI will have two large radio telescopes turned towards the sun. On a normal day it would pick up the radiation coming from the sun itself.”

-Jack Howard, Solar System Ambassador for NASA

“In May of 1900 a total solar eclipse passed through Winnsboro a Dr. Henry Smith traveled to Winnsboro during a total eclipse to observe the sun. We’re commemorating that expedition and celebrating The Great American Eclipse”

-Kristen Thompson, Physics professor at Davidson College

What we learn from solar eclipses  

“The sun puts out a lot of energy beyond the visible parts of the spectrum our eyes pick up, but the sun also puts out a tremendous amount of energy in other forms, like radio waves and x-rays. During totality the moon will block that out so that they will be able to pick up fainter radio signals coming from the corona of the sun –the outer atmosphere. The energy from the corona is much weaker. The surface of the sun is about 10,000 degrees Fahrenheit. As the corona expands from that the gas gets thinner. We expected the atmosphere to get cooler, but we have found places beyond the visible surface of the sun that the temperature actually goes up to a million degrees.”

-Jack Howard, Solar System Ambassador for NASA


Jack Howard - Solar System Ambassador for NASA; Retired professor of physics and astronomy at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College

Kristen Thompson - Assistant Professor, Physics Department, Davidson College

Andrea Mensink - Director of Communications, Experience Columbia SC. Columbia has branded itself the 'total solar eclipse capital of the east coast.'

Derrec Becker - Public Information Officer, SC Emergency Management Division


NASA website about Eclipse 2017 - lots of great info including tips for viewing the eclipse safely, eclipse 101, and eclipse maps.

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division has issued a tip sheet for residents, visitors, and business preparing for the eclipse. View safety fact sheet here. 

Enter your zipcode to find out when the solar eclipse will be visible where you live and what you can expect to see, with this tool from Vox

Erin Keever is Senior Producer of WFAE's Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. She has been with the show since joining the station in 2006. She's a native Charlottean.