2017 solar eclipse: facts and figures



Eclipse sequence runs left to right. Center image shows totality. Image to the right and left of center – referred to as diamond rings – mark the beginning and end of totality, respectively. The eclipse in Blount County is not total, approximating only 95 percent of totality.

Eclipse sequence runs left to right. Center image shows totality. Image to the right and left of center – referred to as diamond rings – mark the beginning and end of totality, respectively. The eclipse in Blount County is not total, approximating only 95 percent of totality.

The Great American solar eclipse of 2017 – so-named because it will travel a 2,800- mile path across the United States from Oregon to South Carolina, thus creating the largest audience ever for an eclipse – will occur, beginning at 12 noon in Oneonta and its environs on Monday, Aug. 21.

For most of the U. S., including Alabama, the eclipse will not be total, but northeast Alabama is close enough to the “path of totality,” that the event will be substantial – approaching 95 percent of total obscuration of the sun by the moon in the Blount County area. (The path of totality is about 70 miles wide, crossing Tennessee in an arc just north of Nashville and Chattanooga at its closest point to Alabama.)

The entire event from start to finish will be roughly three hours long, ending just minutes after 3 p.m. The peak time – the time when the sun is totally obscured, if you’re in the path of totality (remember, Blount County is not) – is 1:32 p.m., with the maximum obscuration lasting for a bit more than a minute before and after the peak – roughly from 1:31 p.m. to 1:33 p.m. Prepare or beware!

You can’t look at the sun with your unprotected eyes at any time during the eclipse. It could irreparably damage your eyesight. YOU HAVE TO use special solar viewing glasses, called eclipse glasses, to view the sun during the eclipse. Those in the path of totality can view the sun without eclipse glasses only during the brief two-minute period when it is completely obscured, but remember, in Blount County, it will NEVER be completely obscured. You MUST use the eclipse glasses the entire time, whenever you look at the sun. Eclipse glasses may be available from Oneonta Walmart, although restock supplies tend to sell out immediately, according to store manager Corey Estrada. You may order glasses on-line through Walmart with a two-day delivery interval for an order totalling $35. Cost of the glasses is $1.00 a pair. As of today, Aug. 16, there’s still time. But not much. Why bother?

Fair question. First answer: sophisticated experts have enthused about what a moving, almost mystical, experience observing a total eclipse can be. It has been said it puts in the “shade” all the other most memorable events in human experience: the most beautiful of sunsets, the most awe-inspiring of rainbows set against the brooding background of a distant storm, the most sensational of aurora borealis displays.

BUT…. they emphasize the eclipse experience is fully realized only if you’re in the path of totality. To reach that path from Oneonta, the closest route is to travel up I-59 to Chattanooga, then beyond on I-75 to the area roughly from Cleveland to Sweetwater, Tenn., a distance by car of about 150 to 190 miles – or head up I-65 to the area just beyond Nashville, a comparable distance. (No suggestion is made that you should make such a trip on short notice. Lots of people have been planning their journey for months. It’s likely to be crowded.)

Second answer: If you have to have it explained, you wouldn’t understand, anyway. It’s like having kids, or falling in love, or riding a bicycle. You just have to believe. What if I wait for the next one?

You’ll have to wait quite awhile, but you’ve got three chances, if you’ve got a healthy lifeline.

• Aug. 12, 2045. Good news: a solar eclipse path of totality passes over almost half the state of Alabama. Bad news: the southern half.

• March 30, 2052. Long shot: a solar eclipse path of totality passes over the extreme southeastern corner of Alabama. Bad news: even Dothan is marginal for totality. Cottonwood, Al., (pop. 1,255) however, is all in.

• May 11, 2078. Good news: a solar eclipse path of totality passes over almost half the state. Bad news: the southern half again.