Total eclipse of Charleston’s heart

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August 21, 2017: darkness will cover the sky in the midst of daylight. In a short moment, everything will line up perfectly to cause a rare sight. The Great American Eclipse is upon us, and with a slim opportunity to see it, Charleston has been deemed one of the best cities for viewing this anomaly.

What is a total solar eclipse?

A total solar eclipse “is when the moon passes in front of the Sun, so the moon is in between the Earth and the Sun, and it lines up perfectly, and the moon is close enough to the Earth, [making it] big enough in the sky to [completely] cover up the Sun,” explained adjunct astronomy professor Kwayera Davis. The diagram on the next page shows a clear illustration of this great path.

A total solar eclipse is rarer and more significant than a partial solar eclipse. The diagram depicts a partial eclipse, where the moon does not line up perfectly, but instead “just takes a bite out of the Sun,” Davis said.

For lovers of astronomy and of breathtaking views, this total solar eclipse is a check off the bucket list. Davis showed research from the Great American Eclipse website that showcases and maps solar eclipses from the years 1901 to 2000, illustrating the amount of total solar eclipses within sight in the continental U.S. Only 11 were counted in that span of 99 years. To break down the numbers further, Davis stated that only about one shows up in the U.S. every decade, and only once every several decades will “totality” be in view in a specific city such as Charleston.

Already a large tourist attraction, the Great American Eclipse is going to make Charleston overflow with people. Events and tourists packages are popping up such as Go Dark Charleston, where eclipse cruises and expeditions are wrapped up in extremely expensive little packages. But according to Davis and Terry Richardson, senior instructor in the department of physics and astronomy, the best way to view the eclipse is free: making good food, having good company, an open sky and some eclipse viewing glasses, which can easily be purchased online through retailers like Amazon. Special edition lenses are also available from

Free events and viewing suggestions

Dr. Laura Penny of the astronomy and physics department also had strong advice on when, where and how to best view the eclipse. When using Google Maps to find a viewing spot, (specifically from the link listed in the info box), Penny advised to find a place within the totality, a term used to describe the level of coverage of the sun by the moon, or visually, the level of absolute darkness that will be experienced. Charleston will encounter one minute and 30 seconds of complete darkness, or totality. Penny stated that viewing totality is important because, “The difference between 99.99 percent coverage and 100 percent coverage is beyond drastic. Get inside totality.”

With this advice in mind, Penny stated that there are several ideal locations where astronomers from the College will be placed with telescopes, though these are not major viewing events. They are simply meant to advertise and spread out opportunities for viewing locations. There is no need to purchase tickets, it’s simply going to be people gathering to view the eclipse with the opportunity to ask real astronomers questions. Some of the  locations they are planning include:

Sewee Center

Patriot’s Point

Marion Square

Local public schools

Liberty Square

Mt. Pleasant Rec. Center

With the eclipse upon us, it is time to get planning. This event is worth finding a good viewing spot. One minute and 30 seconds of total darkness in the midst of daytime will create a total eclipse of all our hearts, captivating us all.

*This article first appeared in the April 2017 issue of The Yard. 

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    24 April 2017 10:03 pm

    As the date of the August 21 eclipse draws near, keep this important safety information in mind: You MUST use special eclipse safety glasses to view a partial eclipse and the partial phases of a total eclipse. To do otherwise is risking permanent eye damage and even blindness. The ONLY time it’s safe to look at a TOTAL eclipse without proper eye protection is during the very brief period of totality when the Sun is 100 percent blocked by the Moon. If you’re in a location where the eclipse won’t be total, there is NEVER a time when it’s safe to look with unprotected eyes. NEVER attempt to view an eclipse with an optical device (camera, binoculars, telescope) that doesn’t have a specially designed solar filter that fits snugly on the front end (the Sun side) of the device. Additionally, never attempt to view an eclipse with an optical device while wearing eclipse glasses; the focused light will destroy the glasses and enter and damage your eyes.


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