Don’t get me wrong, I am a stargazer and enjoy watching the sky better than most of my family members, friends and colleagues. For the upcoming solar eclipse on Monday, August 21, 2017, not only will I be in good company, it’s beginning to feel crowded as most Americans prep for a once in a century event. We’ve had solar eclipses before, however, this one is very special for those of us living in the continental United States. The Great American Solar Eclipse, as some are calling it, will run about four hours from start to finish. It begins on the West Coast at 9:05 a.m. PDT (12:05 p.m. EDT) and ends on the East Coast at 4:09 p.m. EDT.
Assuming that it is not raining or very cloudy, you can go outside and participate in the celestial revelry. Even better, the Great American Solar Eclipse will be televised courtesy of NASA, NBC News, and others. Even my sister, someone who frowns at me or rolls her eyes when I mention an upcoming stargazing or sky watching event, has crawled on-board. She informed me that the public schools in our hometown in South Carolina are closed. “Really?” I ask her. “When did they decide to do that?” I prod further. She responds that this school closure date has been on the calendar for some time. “Really?” I say again. And wait for it, wait for it…she told me that she even has a pair of solar eclipse glasses! I don’t even have a pair.
As a reminder, a solar eclipse occurs when the moon blocks the path of the sun’s rays to Earth. A total eclipse is possible because of a coincidence of size and distance. The sun is 400 times wider than the moon, and 400 times farther away from Earth than the moon. As a result, from our vantage point on the ground, during a total eclipse they appear to be the same size in the sky, so the moon covers the sun completely. (During an annular eclipse, the moon is too far away from Earth, and therefore too small, to completely cover the sun, revealing a “ring of fire,” or annulus, around the moon.) [Source: Los Angeles Times]
Why is this a big deal in the United States?: On Monday, the moon’s shadow will fall on the surface of the Earth and block out all or part of the sun. A total solar eclipse hasn’t happened in North America since 1979, and the last solar eclipse to cross the entire U.S. hasn’t happened since 1918. The Great American Solar Eclipse will darken skies from Oregon to South Carolina, along a stretch of land about 70 miles (113 kilometers) wide. People who descend upon this “path of totality“ are in for an unforgettable experience.
By the way, those wonderful folks at NASA and Space.com put together the table below to give members of the public an indication of when the eclipse will begin and end in those states that fall within the path of totality. Many folks are planning to drive to a location along the path, however, even if you don’t, you’ll still get to see a partial eclipse of the sun from other locations within the continental United States, weather permitting.
|Location||Eclipse Begins||Totality Begins||Totality Ends||Eclipse Ends||Time Zone|
|Madras, OR||09:06 a.m.||10:19 a.m.||10:21 a.m.||11:41 a.m.||PDT|
|Idaho Falls, ID||10:15 a.m.||11:33 a.m.||11:34 a.m.||12:58 p.m.||MDT|
|Casper, WY||10:22 a.m.||11:42 a.m.||11:45 a.m.||01:09 p.m.||MDT|
|Lincoln, NE||11:37 a.m.||01:02 p.m.||01:04 p.m.||02:29 p.m.||CDT|
|Jefferson City, MO||11:46 a.m.||01:13 p.m.||01:15 p.m.||02:41 p.m.||CDT|
|Carbondale, IL||11:52 a.m.||01:20 p.m.||01:22 p.m.||02:47 p.m.||CDT|
|Paducah, KY||11:54 a.m.||01:22 p.m.||01:24 p.m.||02:49 p.m.||CDT|
|Nashville, TN||11:58 a.m.||01:27 p.m.||01:29 p.m.||02:54 p.m.||CDT|
|Clayton, GA||01:06 p.m.||02:35 p.m.||02:38 p.m.||04:01 p.m.||EDT|
|Columbia, SC||01:03 p.m.||02:41 p.m.||02:44 p.m.||04:06 p.m.||EDT|
My discussion of the path of totality would be incomplete without saying that the eclipse ends in McClellanville, SC – a small fishing town in Charleston County, SC. The population reported by the Bureau of Census for McClellanville for 2010 is 499. The Town Council has no events scheduled for the Solar Eclipse on this coming Monday, August 21, 2017. However, they have already informed town residents and others that there are a few points that anyone should be aware of before coming to the area on that day:
- The entire area, including businesses are on septic and well systems, that are not designed to accommodate large numbers of people.
- There are no hotels, motels or sleeping accommodations.
- EMS facilities are limited, and emergency services are at least 25 miles from the town.
- There are only one or two small restaurants that will be open.
- The Post and Carrier Newspaper has predicted total gridlock on Highway 17, the main artery into town.
McClellanville, SC is not the only small town along the path of totality that will get enhanced name recognition during the Great American Solar Eclipse. Many of the cities, big and small, are preparing to be deluged by huge viewing crowds. Needless to say, some folks are making some extra $s doing so.
In addition to the above, my interest in the Great American Solar Eclipse is tied to the solar industry. Although solar energy is < 1% of the energy generated in the U.S., it has been growing rapidly over the past 10 years. The question for me and others is how will the rolling effect of the eclipse impact generation from solar power plants and rooftops? We know that the generation of solar energy during rainy weather or cloudy days is significantly reduced. However, how the grid is balanced (or should be balanced) during a solar eclipse is tied to supply and demand at the time that an eclipse would be occurring. Electric utilities and independent power producers should gain some valuable data on this coming Monday. The Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy reports that California’s solar industry is also prepping for the phenomenon, which could temporarily deprive the grid of a lot of energy.
Solar eclipse fever continues. According to the USAToday, for the first time ever, Krispy Kreme’s original glazed doughnuts will be “eclipsed” by chocolate glaze to commemorate the total solar eclipse. Doughnut lovers will be able to get their hands on the extremely limited treat all day on Monday, Aug. 21, as well as during evening “Hot Light” hours on Aug. 19 and Aug. 20.
Even Taylor Swift has taken a related or possibly unrelated solar eclipse action. Billboard News reports that Ms. Shake It Off has wiped clean all of her social media accounts and even her web site has gone dark.
Here’s to happy and safe viewing during the Great American Solar Eclipse.