This Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse will be completely visible within a band across the entire United States for the first time since 1918. The path of the eclipse in its totality will pass over Charleston, South Carolina, just an hour’s drive from Savannah.
Eclipses, according to SCAD Professor of Science Carlos Manuel Gonzalez, occur when the moon crosses directly in front of the sun, with the moon casting its shadow during daylight hours. Gonzalez explained that what makes this eclipse so unique is its rare position over the continental U.S.
“Our heliocentric orbit takes us around the sun for a duration of one year,” Gonzalez said. “The moon takes around 28 days to go around Earth in another orbit. Typically, they stay away from each other. We often witness their interactions indirectly by means of the lunar phases. This [eclipse] is a phenomenon because, especially for those under the path of totality, we get complete darkness.”
Tess Dubé, an administrative assistant to the chair of the department of liberal arts, said the eclipse will start on the west coast in Oregon and finish in Charleston.
“Though some states may only experience a partial (50 to 70 percent) eclipse, everyone will be able to witness it together,” Dubé said. “The path of totality (from Oregon to South Carolina) is only about 70 miles wide. The closer you get to the center of the path, the longer you get to see the eclipse.”
Dubé said she has been working with Gonzalez to plan a field trip for SCAD students to witness the eclipse from Santee, South Carolina, where the sun will be completely covered by the moon for about 2 1/2 minutes.
“If you are closer to the edge of the path of totality, you may only witness it for a minute or so,” Dubé said. “Savannah is outside the path of totality, however it will be experiencing a 97 percent eclipse, which will still be quite dark. I have heard that if it is a clear day, you may be able to see stars come out as the eclipse passes through.”
According to Gonzalez, the rarity of a total solar eclipse used to prompt hysterical responses and theories from those who witnessed it thousands of years ago.
“In the past, many civilizations viewed this phenomenon as some act by the gods,” Gonzalez said. “We know now that this is pure science, a gift from gravity. Just ask Bill Nye and Neil Degrasse Tyson.”
When it comes to witnessing the eclipse directly, NASA has strongly encouraged viewers to wear protective eyeglasses to prevent permanent retina damage. Gonzalez said proper eyewear will decrease the light intensity and possibility of ultraviolet radiation.
“However, I recommend that for 2 minutes in South Carolina you take the eyewear off to look at the event,” Gonzalez said. “While the sun is totally blocked, the danger is minimal and we can look at it directly to try and make out any coronal ejections [and] see the stars and Venus nearby. When the sun starts to reappear, [it’s] time to put the eye wear back on.”
Dubé said those who want to find the best spot to view the eclipse should scout out an area where the whole sky is visible.
“I would suggest an open field like Forsyth or even the beach,” Dubé said. “However, you also want to be sure that you are protecting yourself from the sun while you are waiting for the main event. Be sure to stay hydrated.”
Gonzalez believes traffic might get hectic in the time leading up to the eclipse. He is also concerned about the distraction the eclipse might cause to those driving.
“Authorities are worried that there may be more car accidents because of the darkness,” Gonzalez said. “Between 2 and 3 p.m., residents need to [stay] put, or parked, looking up and not driving.”
SCAD students, though interested in design, also express an enthusiasm for astronomy, Gonzalez said. According to him, his astronomy course is quite popular.
“I am confident that even when it is the last week of the summer quarter, most SCAD students in Savannah and in Atlanta will make room in their busy scheduled lives for this very rare and special date with Mother Nature,” Gonzalez said. “For SCAD students who seek spiritual and intellectual inspiration before going on and creating art and design, this is a momentous occurrence.”
Both Dubé and Gonzalez agree that students should definitely make an effort to witness the eclipse, even if they can’t make it to South Carolina.
“You have to be able to tell your friends or eventually your children where you were and what you were doing on this day,” Gonzalez said. “It will make for a fun anecdote for the ages.”