[Editor’s note: The author is the owner of The Map Shop on East Morehead Street].
The nerds have been talking about this for months. I’m one of them. Even if you’re not a nerd, you’ve probably heard that an eclipse is happening on August 21.
On August 21, 2017, an eclipse will appear in the Pacific Ocean then pass through the entire United States along a set path and will disappear in the Atlantic Ocean. Yup, this is ‘Merica’s Eclipse.
Only 1 in 1,000 people have ever seen a total solar eclipse. The last one in the US was in 1979 and it only appeared across a small part of the West. The last eclipse we had pass over the whole country was in 1918. So yeah, this is kind of a big deal and it’s passing right through our back yard. You should care!
Check out the eclipse’s path on the map below. The gray band through the middle of the country is the “Path of Totality” where you can see the full solar eclipse. Click here for a large PDF version courtesy of NASA.
As you’ll see, the Path of Totality is passing close to Charlotte and most of the rest of the country isn’t that lucky.
Now that I got you interested, let’s get some FAQs out of the way…
What is a solar eclipse?
A solar eclipse occurs when the Moon lines up perfectly with the Earth and the Sun. The Moon’s shadow will cover the Sun, blocking its light. Solar eclipses are less common than lunar eclipses, that can be viewed anywhere it’s night, when the Earth passes between the Moon and the Sun.
Why do solar eclipses occur?
We need to do a little math, sorry. The Sun is about 865,000 miles across, 400 times bigger than the Moon at 2,160 miles across. Even though the Sun is 400 times larger than the Moon, the moon is 400 times closer to Earth, so the moon and the sun appear to be the same size.
Why are solar eclipses rare?
Despite the ridiculous coincidence of the Moon’s and Sun’s sizes, the moon has an elliptical orbit, so their proportion isn’t always the same. Most often, the orbits don’t line up and our eclipse views are a bunch of garbage.
What is the Path of Totality?
The Moon’s umbral shadow will cross the Earth to create the path of totality. Anyone located in The Path of Totality will be able to see the Moon cover 100% of the Sun. This is noted by the gray band on the map above.
What are eclipse glasses?
I probably don’t need to tell you this, but looking directly at the Sun hurts, badly, so don’t do that. To view an eclipse safely, you’ll need eclipse glasses that darken your view to a safe level. It’s only safe to remove your glasses during a full eclipse. Keep your glasses on during the partial eclipse portions before and after a full eclipse.
What is a partial eclipse?
If your city doesn’t fall in the path of totality, you’ll see a partial eclipse. See the red lines on the map above that list the percentage of the eclipse you’ll see along each path. Please note that you will need solar eclipse glasses to view the entire partial eclipse since the sun isn’t completely covered.
What is a total eclipse?
If you are in the Path of Totality, you will see a total eclipse where the Moon will completely cover the Sun. This is the only time it is safe to remove solar eclipse glasses. When you see a bright light appear like a diamond ring at one side of the shadow, put your glasses back on.
As you see on the map, you don’t have to be within the Path of Totality to see the eclipse. One of the biggest misconceptions if that if you’re not on the path, you don’t need to care. Charlotte will get a 96% view of the eclipse, and that’s not too shabby. If you need to see to believe, use this tool to type in your ZIP code to see what you’ll see.
Even though Charlotte will get a partial eclipse, I still think you should see the totality for several reasons.
- The air temperature is going to plummet of the moment of the total eclipse as the moon blocks the sun’s radiant heat.
- Flowers will close up and animals will prepare for sleep.
- A weird-looking dusk will appear and stars will become visible.
- Oh, and the sun is going to be replaced by a black orb in the sky with a ring of fire around it. So there’s that…
- Sure, a solar eclipse happens on average every 18 months, but less than .5% of the Earth’s surface gets to view it. This is bucket list stuff, people.
Not convinced unless you see it in video? Check out this video from Vox, one of the best I’ve seen to make the argument on why this is a can’t miss. *If you’re pressed for time, skip to 4:08 in the video for a view of a 1999 eclipse and tell me you don’t want to experience this. Seriously.
Local Area Viewing Tips
Only a small part of western North Carolina lies in the totality, but it happens to include the western edge of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so the views should be amazing. You can also see the totality in Murphy, NC, Andrews, NC, or Franklin, NC. Charlotte is not in the path of totality. Charlotteans will get about a 96% view of the eclipse, but you’ll need to wear your eclipse glasses for the entire partial eclipse.
Greenville is on the path of totality, but Spartanburg is split by the path. Greenwood and Columbia will get a total eclipse, along with Sumpter and boaters on Lake Marion. Charleston will see the totality, but head northeast of the city for a longer view. The last city to see the shadow is McClellanville, SC. The shadow will hit the Atlantic around 2:49 p.m. after passing through the barrier island at the tip of a Cape Romain just east of McClellanville.
OK, so now a bite of reality. This most likely will be the most tweeted, photographed, tindered event in history. Over 12 million people live within an hour’s drive of the Path of Totality, two-thirds live within a day’s drive. If this article inspired you to book a hotel in Greenville, you’re probably a few months late. In fact, cities all along the Path are reporting record sellouts in hotels and even price gouging. Bottom line, traffic will most likely be a nightmare.
I’ve spoken to customers in Oregon who are terrified that increased traffic on rural highways during a dry summer is a recipe for disastrous forest fires. According to the Charlotte Observer, the small town of Bryson City is expecting 15,000 eclipse fans. Columbia will draw 1 million people. This is the first time a ton of people said “Let’s go to Columbia!”
And the weather could be a huge bummer. Watching a cloudy sky with a bunch of strangers will be anticlimactic. But I’m an optimist and am calling for clear skies.
Oh, and Charlotte will get an MLS team this year.