On Monday, August 21 at 1:28 p.m., the moon will cover the sun completely and the skies in Nashville will go dark for about two minutes.
It’s a total solar eclipse. On that day, the moon’s shadow will sweep across the United States, and Nashville is the largest city in its path. Nashvillians will get to experience it alongside the tens of thousands of tourists expected to visit the city that day.
“We expect 50,000 to 75,000 overnight out-of-town visitors. Direct visitor spending is estimated at $15 million to $20 million,” says Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.
It’s difficult to estimate such numbers, as the last total solar eclipse visible from Nashville was in 1478 and the next one visible from the Music City will be in 2566.
But solar eclipses actually aren’t all that uncommon.
It's Now or … 2024
Erika Grundstrom, director of astronomy labs at Vanderbilt University, says a solar eclipse can happen as often as every six months. But they happen all around the world, and sometimes they are only visible from the middle of the ocean. Because the moon’s orbit is not perfectly circular, sometimes it is further away from the Earth, so the moon doesn’t completely cover the sun as it passes through — known as an annular eclipse.
The most recent solar eclipse visible from the United States happened in 2009, but it was annular. Grundstrom says the 2009 eclipse was not much different than a cloud moving in front of the sun, but the 2017 eclipse will be distinct.
“This particular one, the moon is going to completely cover the sun and it will get dark enough that you can actually see the stars and the brightest planets in the sky in the daytime,” Grundstrom says.
The eclipse is often advertised as a once-in-a-lifetime event, and that is true for the city of Nashville. However, if one wanted to see another total eclipse, they could travel to South America in 2019 and again in 2020. The next total solar eclipse visible from the United States will sweep through the Midwest from Texas to Maine in 2024.
Don’t Get Blindsided
On the day of the eclipse in Nashville, the moon will start to cover the sun at 11:58 p.m. and will have completely moved away from the sun by 2:54 p.m. For the majority of that time, save for the roughly two minutes of totality, viewers need to be wearing light-blocking glasses if they want to watch the sun directly.
Derrick Rohl, Sudekum Planetarium manager at Adventure Science Center, says eye safety is a message the center is pushing. With no pain receptors in the retinas, people cannot feel their eyes being damaged by the sun.
“Even if it’s just one percent of the sun’s surface that is left unblocked during an eclipse, that one percent is still ten thousand times brighter than the full moon, so it’s still not safe to look at,” he says.
However, Rohl says a big myth with the eclipse is that the sun’s rays are more powerful that day.
“The sun is no more dangerous than it is on any given day, it’s just people are more enamored by it and really want to look at it on eclipse day,” he says.
Rohl says the Adventure Science Center has sold over 110,000 pairs of glasses to schools, and over 30,000 in the center’s gift shop as well as tens of thousands given to corporations who gave donations to the center.
But Grundstrom says one does not have to have the safety glasses to experience the eclipse. Using a colander, a piece of paper with a hole cut in it, or even noticing the shadows of the leaves, viewers can see the “bite the moon takes out of the sun,” in the shadows, Grundstrom says.
“Be safe looking at the eclipse, but don’t let not having glasses keep you from experiencing this,” she says.
How Nashville Celebrates
If one wants to experience more seconds of totality, areas northeast of Nashville, such as Gallatin and Hendersonville, will get as much as 40 more seconds of totality compared to Nashville. Areas southwest of Nashville, such as Franklin, will not see any time of totality.
Perhaps one of the furthest distances traveled to observe the eclipse could be by Netherlands-based Bernard Foing, chief scientist of the European Space Agency. He will be speaking on Monday as a part of Adventure Science Center’s sold-out indoor event. The center is offering ticketed packages for indoor exhibits and special speakers including NASA representatives, along with a free outdoor festival Aug. 19-21. Studying such scientific happenings is nothing new for Adventure Science Center, which has offered an eclipse-themed show in its planetarium since January.
“One of the things we like to say is ‘It’s not a science event, it’s a human event,’ — and if it inspires people to maybe pursue a career in science, that’s icing on the cake right there,” Rohl says.
Metro public schools will be closed for the day, a decision made last week by the school board. According to a statement from the board, “Metro Nashville Public Schools will continue to provide eclipse viewing glasses, safe viewing instructions and supplemental educational resources for our 88,000 students in the days leading up to the eclipse.”
The Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp. website lists 46 special events in honor of the eclipse along with a number of optimal viewing locations that aren’t necessarily hosting events.
Mayor Megan Barry herself will host a viewing party at First Tennessee Park, which will also include hands-on activities from the Adventure Science Center and music from the Nashville Symphony ahead of The Nashville Sounds’ game that evening. Tickets for the viewing party, the game and package tickets are available via Ticketmaster.
Dave Jones, media coordinator for the Italian Lights Festival, says the festival will be Nashville’s largest solar eclipse party. The free festival, which will take place at the Bicentennial Capital Mall, added Monday to make it a four-day for the first time. Speakers will include experts from NASA, and Janet Ivey from the PBS show Janet’s Planets.
With NASA’s advice, Jones says festival organizers have taken extra precautions to enhance the viewing experience, including reprogramming street lights.
“There are things that people don’t think about like, when it goes dark in the city, the lights are programmed to go on,” he says.
But even without any special events, Nashville residents should be able to see the eclipse from their backyard, as long as they can look up and see the sky.
“The next time an eclipse will go through the United States is 2024, so don’t skip this one,” Grundstrom says.