Upstate prepares for total darkness as rare solar eclipse approaches

There Goes the Sun

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During the eclipse, the moon will completely block out the sun, leaving only the corona visible to people wearing glasses with special solar filters. Photo by Will Crooks.

On Aug. 21, the earth, moon, and sun will momentarily align, allowing millions of Americans to observe the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in almost a century.

But the total solar eclipse will only be visible to people living on a narrow track stretching from Oregon to South Carolina. Other parts of the country may only experience a partial eclipse, according to NASA.

Luckily, Greenville and other cities across the Upstate are directly in the path of the rare celestial event and will have more than 2 minutes of total darkness.

The upcoming eclipse, dubbed the “Great American Eclipse,” is expected to start in Oregon and gradually pass through 14 states.It will begin its pass over the Upstate at about 1:07 p.m. and finish around 4:02 p.m. The total eclipse will begin around 2:37 p.m. in Greenville and last for 2 minutes and 10 seconds before heading through Columbia and Charleston.

A total solar eclipse is often a once-in-a-lifetime experience, according to Amber Porter, a physics and astronomy lecturer at Clemson University. The last coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States was recorded in 1918. A total solar eclipse won’t pass through the Upstate again until 2078.

“Everyone who lives in the path of totality should be getting excited about being able to see a total solar eclipse from their backyards,” said Porter. “Most people won’t get a chance to see something like this ever again.”

During the eclipse, the moon will completely block out the sun, leaving only the corona visible to anyone wearing glasses with solar filters, according to Porter. 

She said the path of totality will be wider in the Upstate than anywhere else in the country, making it a top destination for anyone who wants to see the rare eclipse.

South Carolina residents who live within the path of totality (pictured above) will see a total solar eclipse, where the moon completely blocks out the sun. Others will see a partial solar eclipse. Photo by NASA.

State officials are preparing for as many as 2 million visitors.

The Greenville County School District, for instance, has pushed the first day of school from Monday, Aug. 21, to the following day.

Lawmakers voted earlier this year to allow schools to start Thursday, Aug. 17, earlier than normal. Some districts have chosen to do that and cancel classes on the day of the eclipse. Greenville County Schools elected not to start early.

“Opting not to have school on the day of the total solar eclipse provides an opportunity for families to experience this incredible phenomenon together and for parents to ensure the protection of their children’s eye health,” said Greenville County School District Superintendent Burke Royster.

The state Department of Public Safety is already preparing for increased traffic, according to spokesman Kelley Hughes. State troopers are planning in advance to monitor and assist with traffic issues that may arise during the eclipse.

The S.C. Emergency Management Division is also preparing for the eclipse.

“We’re standing by to respond to any request from our coordinators throughout the state,” said EMD spokesman Derec Becker. “From our perspective, it’s a localized event, and our local first responders will take the lead should anything happen.”

Becker said EMD hasn’t received any formal request for planning assistance but plans to release safety information about the eclipse in the coming weeks.

“We’re mainly concerned about people driving and stopping on the interstates to view the eclipse. People need to plan ahead and choose a safe location off the roadway if they intend to watch it,” Becker added. “It’s actually illegal to stop in the road for reasons other than an emergency situation.”

EMD expects the influx of traffic to mirror that of a major college football game.

A total solar eclipse is often a once-in-a-lifetime event. It occurs when the Earth, sun, and moon align. Photo by NASA.

Greenville and other cities are looking to capitalize off the rare celestial event.

The city’s visitors and convention bureau, VisitGreenvilleSC, has created a “Yeah, That Eclipse” webpage that features a countdown clock, a few hotel packages, and information about events related to the eclipse.

“We’re trying to bring in as many people as possible and turn the eclipse into an extended weekend event,” said Laura Connell, marketing coordinator for VisitGreenvilleSC. “Our partner hotels will have solar glasses for their guests who are in town for the eclipse day, and there will be a limited number available at the visitor’s center the weekend before and day of the eclipse.”

The Greenville Drive is also getting ready for the once-in-a-lifetime event. The Single-A baseball team has pushed its game time to 1 p.m. on Aug. 21 so that attendees can celebrate the eclipse from Fluor Field.

Greenville’s Roper Mountain Science Center expects to attract thousands of people from across the globe for its “Eclipse Extravaganza.” The center plans to offer various eclipse-related activities on Aug. 19 and 20. It will also hold several major events on the day of the eclipse.

The Lower Eastern Cherokee Nation of South Carolina, for instance, plans to visit the center’s Living History Farm to talk with attendees about how other cultures understood and explained such phenomena in the past.

The center also plans to present a solar eclipse show at its newly renovated T.C. Hooper Planetarium and showcase its 23-inch refractor telescope. There will also be live music, with bands using instruments powered by solar panels, according to Michael Weeks, director of Roper Mountain Science Center.

As the eclipse begins, astronomers will be on hand at each of the center’s four viewing areas to ensure people are viewing the sky safely and explain what’s happening.

“We want everyone to know how lucky we are to be able to experience this amazing event without having to travel. The last time the mainland U.S. was in the path of totality was in 1979,” said Michael Weeks, director of Roper Mountain Science Center. “Most of us will never have this opportunity again.”

Greenville’s Roper Mountain Science Center plans to use the Aug. 21 solar eclipse to showcase its 23-inch refractor telescope in the Daniel Observatory. It’s the eighth largest telescope of its kind, according to RMSC Director Michael Weeks.

Weeks said tickets are sold out to view the eclipse from Roper Mountain Science Center, but that tickets are still available for pre-eclipse activities. “We have people buying tickets from Germany, France, and literally all over the world.”

Admission for the Roper Mountain Science Center Eclipse Extravaganza is $10 per person for ages 4 and up for Aug. 19 and 20, and $25 for ages 4 and up on Aug. 21. For more info, go to ropermountain.org.

Lake Conestee Nature Park is holding a “Solar Spectacular” at Lost Lake, which is located behind the Little League baseball fields at 840 Mauldin Road.

The event, which begins at 12:30 p.m. on the day of the eclipse, will include live music, food trucks, nature walks, bird viewing, eclipse-themed crafts for kids, face painting, animals from Wild Rescue, and experts. The event cost $20 for adults and $10 for kids under 12. Solar eclipse viewing glasses will be given to the first 100 people to buy tickets.

Local colleges and universities are also preparing for the solar eclipse.

Furman University is hosting a variety of public events on campus on the day of the eclipse, including a guided viewing presentation at Paladin Stadium. The event, called Eclipse@Furman, runs from 12:30–3:30 p.m.

An eclipse “festival” will also be held at the stadium entrance between noon and 2 p.m., including thematic activities, concessions, special music, and free cups.

Furman University physics professor David Moffett will also narrate a discussion as the eclipse unfolds between 2 and 2:45 p.m. The university will provide special glasses to all attendees.

In the event of inclement weather, the event will be held at Bon Secours Wellness Arena in downtown and will feature live streaming of the eclipse from NASA.

Clemson University physics and astronomy professors Donald Liebenberg (left) and Dieter Hartmann (right) and lecturer Amber Porter plan to hold on-campus presentations about the solar eclipse on Aug. 21. Photo by Jim Melvin, Clemson University.

Clemson University is also making plans to host an eclipse-viewing event, called “Eclipse Over Clemson,” that will include in-person appearances from experts.

“Few places in the nation grasp the significance of this better than Clemson University, whose team of scientists and staff are piecing together plans to have a large celebration where we can all gather on campus and experience the eclipse together,” said Porter, lead coordinator for “Eclipse Over Clemson.”

Leading up to the eclipse, interested residents can also schedule a show in Clemson University’s digital planetarium.

Also, the university’s physics and astronomy graduate students plan to hold solar viewing pop-up events on campus and at local libraries, which will have demonstrations available to explain how eclipses occur. Clemson will also be providing solar glasses to protect viewers’ eyes from the damaging rays of the sun.

The eclipse will last 2 minutes and 37 seconds in Clemson, according to Porter.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts Clemson is one of the U.S. cities most likely to enjoy clear weather during the eclipse. It also should have the best viewing conditions in South Carolina, NOAA says.

According to the forecast, the city of Clemson has a 75 percent chance of having viewable conditions on the day of the eclipse, which ranks in the top 10 cities in the eclipse path based on “viewability percentage.”

Clemson is ranked highest among South Carolina cities in the forecast. Charleston was given a 53 percent chance of viewable conditions, while Columbia is at 44 percent.

The city of Greenville wasn’t listed in the forecast, but Greer has a 65 percent chance of favorable viewing conditions.

For more information, visit greatamericaneclipse.com.

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