Mark your calendar for an extraordinary cosmic spectacle happening across the continental United States. On Aug. 21, there will be a total solar eclipse visible from a 67-mile wide path across starting from Oregon to South Carolina. Travelers and residents near the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are in a wonderful location to view the eclipse. The complete western half of the park will fall under the path of the totality. In a total solar eclipse, the moon will completely obscure the sun, leaving only the sun’s corona visible for a couple minutes.
“They are very eerie,” says Erica Ellingson, a professor of astrophysics and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. “The feeling many people have is very primal but the sun has gone away. It gets dark. It gets cold. The light becomes a shimmery silver light and the stars come out.”
The Aug. 21 solar eclipse marks the first total eclipse across America’s lower 48 states in more than 38 years. The last one happened in 1979, which passed through the Pacific Northwest and Central Canada.
“Total solar eclipses are rare, relatively speaking, that you can see from North America,” says David Brain, an assistant professor of astrophysics and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder. “During the last one that passed through North America, I think I was something like 6 years old and I’m in my mid-40s now. In your lifetime if you don’t want to leave North America you only have a handful of times to see it.”
Clingmans Dome Eclipse Activities
The park will close Clingmans Dome, the highest point in the park at 6,643 ft. for an eclipse-viewing event. Tickets went on sale for the Clingmans Dome event on March 1 for $30 and sold out in minutes. Approximately 1,600 people will be at the event. Any cancelled tickets will become available to the public again, so visit recreation.gov for additional ticket availability.
Because of the event, Clingmans Dome Road will close to the public on Aug. 20 and Aug. 21 in preparation for the event. And on Aug. 21, ticketed participants to the Clingmans Dome event will not be able to drive to the site. They will board buses in the morning at designated parking areas in either Gatlinburg, Tenn., or Cherokee, N.C., arriving at Clingmans Dome by 12:30 p.m. The program will begin at about 12:45 p.m., about 20 minutes before the partial eclipse begins, and will feature presentations until about 3 p.m., about 30 minutes after totality.
Once atop Clingmans Dome ticketed visitors can view a Jumbotron featuring the live NASA broadcast, in addition to telescopes, exhibits, activities and guest speakers unearthing the science behind the total solar eclipse. Participants will start boarding buses back to town between approximately 3:15 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.
Other Great Smoky Mountain Eclipse Activities
In response to the sold out event at Clingmans Dome, the park has set up additional viewing locations.
“We are having educational opportunities at the Oconaluftee and Cades Cove visitor centers,” says Dana Soehn, a park spokesperson.
They will be entirely free to the public and open as long as there is space available. Soehn says eclipse viewers will be able to learn more information and safety tips at the visitor centers. More specifically, rangers will host informal guided eclipse viewing at Cable Mill (Cades Cove) and Oconaluftee Visitor Center. More events are being planned,so check the park site for updated information. www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2017-solar-eclipse.htm
Park rangers recommend starting your day early on Aug. 21 and planning your routes ahead of time if you plan on hiking or traversing the park during the eclipse.
Advice for Traveling in Great Smoky during the Eclipse
“In order to get to the location where [people] desire to view the eclipse and experience it, we are encouraging people to do that early,” explains Soehn. “We also encourage them to stop by one of the visitors centers so they can get more information on how to experience it. Make sure you have safety glasses and you’re prepared for the day.”
The park will sell disposable, plastic glasses for a nominal price, says Soehn, but recommends visitros bring their own in case the park supply sells out.
The park estimates the total eclipse will happen happening at 2:30 p.m. The expected totality time is one minute and 30 seconds. Therefore, park staff advises travelers to be at their designated location by 1 p.m. in order to avoid congestion and overflow. Don’t forget that the park plans will close down Clingman’s Dome Road on Aug. 20-21 for the special eclipse event. Additionally, Soehn says the park could close down more roads during the day of the eclipse, depending on the volume of traffic.
If you feel weary about traversing to the park, the eclipse will hit Bryson City, N.C., at the edge of the national park. It will experience totality for one minute and 57 seconds, beginning at precisely 2:35:17 p.m. Visit downtown Bryson City and view the eclipse on Frye Street. For those hoping for a little nature, watch the eclipse from Swain County Recreation Park. Learn more at www.greatsmokies.com/2017eclipse.html
On the Tennessee side of the park, towns and lodging facilities will also be hosting eclipse celebrations including a hot air balloon festival. Learn more at http://www.smokymountains.org/plan-your-trip/events/, www.facebook.com/gsmballoonfest, and dancingbearlodge.com/event/total-solar-eclipse-party.
Eclipses That Altered History
Eclipses have had an impact on events in the past. Witnesses to an eclipse without any prior knowledge are left in awe and in some events even shocked.
“There was a battle between the Medes and the Lydians at 585 B.C.,” says Ellingson. “As they are lining up on the battlefield, the sun went into eclipse – [the Medes and Lydians] called it off.”
On the contrary, the Romans used eclipses in a strategic way.
“The Romans were against the Macedonians,” says Ellingson. “The Romans had astronomers at that point who could predict the eclipse of the moon. The general of the Roman Army told his troops that [the eclipse] was going to happen, and they used it as a psychological advantage against their enemies. Their enemies were not expecting this to happen. And when the moon grew dim and red the Romans generals pressed the attack and won not only the battle but the war.”
The total solar eclipse happening on August 21 may not end your battles, but it will be just as historic of an eclipse as the ones that happened thousands of years ago. When August comes around, make sure to get yourself under totality or you will have to wait another seven years for the next North American eclipse in 2024.
Learn more at www.nps.gov/grsm/planyourvisit/2017-solar-eclipse.htm