Middle Tennessee has a front row seat for the nation’s first total solar eclipse in nearly a century.
On August 21, for the first time in 99 years, a total solar eclipse will transit the continental United States and Middle Tennessee is the place to be. In fact, Nashville is the largest city in the nation that will be within the path of the umbra – the moon’s shadow across Earth. (Brentwood is just inside the path, while Franklin lies just outside.)
Due to the rarity (the vast majority of humanity will never see a total solar eclipse) and sheer drama of darkness occurring in daylight hours, it is arguably the most spectacular astronomical event that can be experienced with the naked eye. And it’s the only time that the sun’s corona, or “ring of fire,” is visible.
So what, exactly, is this phenomenon? Recently we met with Rocky Alvey, Director of Vanderbilt’s Dyer Observatory, to find out.
Lifestyle Publications: In layman’s terms, what is a total solar eclipse?
Rocky Alvey: The moon orbits Earth every 27-plus days. Occasionally everything is just right at new moon: the moon is relatively close to Earth and its orbit brings it across the disk of the sun. At this fortunate spot, the shadows of the moon sweep across Earth. Observers in the larger, outer shadow (the penumbra) will see the sun partially obscured – a partial solar eclipse; while those fortunate enough to be in the path of the much smaller, inner shadow (the umbra) will see the sun completely obscured – a total solar eclipse.
LP: We hear about “rare astronomical events” all the time, but why should someone stop what they’re doing and make an effort to witness this one?
RA: People will be traveling from around the world to see this total eclipse. In Middle Tennessee one only has to go a few miles to witness the event-of-a-lifetime. There will not be another total eclipse along this path in any living person’s lifetime.
LP: What should the experiences be like on the edge of totality in Brentwood, and just outside the path in Franklin?
RA: Being close to, but not inside, the path of totality, will be similar to being one number off the winning Powerball ticket. On the edge of the path, you may only see the glory of totality for a second. Do your homework. Pick a place that at least has one minute of totality. At the Concord Road and Franklin Road intersection, the duration of totality is five seconds. At Radnor Lake State Park the duration is 1 minute, 13 seconds. In Nashville’s Nissan Stadium the duration is 1 minute, 56 seconds. On the center of the transit line in downtown Gallatin you will have the longest duration possible of 2 minutes, 39 seconds.
In Franklin the moon will still nibble away a large part of the sun’s disc, but “No corona for you!”
LP: What if it’s cloudy or overcast?
RA: Cloudy? Say it ain’t so! It will get very dark midday, street lights will come on, birds will think it is time to sleep, it will get cooler and will still be an unusual experience. There certainly will be value in experiencing complete darkness midday.
LP: How would you describe the public’s anticipation for the total solar eclipse, compared to other events?
RA: The enthusiasm … is building by the day. Compared to other events, the interest is bigger by orders of magnitude.