For just under a little under three minutes on Monday, the “Great American Eclipse” will blanket a 70-mile wide swath of the United States in darkness during daylight hours. The western tip of North Carolina is in the path of totality – 100 percent shadow during the eclipse – and provides a literal once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to catch a glimpse of a spectacular celestial event.
If you can make it to the mountains and don’t yet have a plan, then Gorges State Park – located in Transylvania County roughly 40 miles southwest of Asheville – is the only North Carolina state park that will be going fully dark on Monday. The park will be opening at 5:00 a.m., and special viewing locations will be providing the best views possible of the eclipse. There will be live music, food and a host of activities for attendees to participate in and watch in the hours leading up to the main event.
Closer to home here in Chapel Hill, the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center will be holding an eclipse extravaganza from noon to 4:30 p.m. on Monday, including everything from a livestream coming from the path of totality to eclipse-related games and activities for folks of all ages. Food trucks will be on hand to feed hungry skywatchers, and presentations will be happening in the Fulldome Theatre to educate and entertain. As this is one of very few events that will be providing a comprehensive eclipse experience outside the area of totality, attendance is expected to be high.
For those looking for a more relaxed eclipse experience, Unscripted – a higher-end hotel in Durham – will be having a rooftop party complete with eclipse glasses and cocktails themed for the occasion (like the “Eclipse Unscripted” and the “Modernist Margarita,” complete with activated charcoal). Mystery Brewing in Hillsborough will be releasing “Mischief Maker,” a coconut porter, and hosting guests during the eclipse as well. Solas in Raleigh will also be hosting a rooftop party centered on the eclipse Monday, as will the Taverna Agora on Hillsborough St. in Durham.
The peak of the event will occur around 2:43 in Chapel Hill, which will be experiencing 90 percent totality. Asheville will peak at 2:37 with 99 percent totality, but it’s important to keep in mind that anything less than 100 percent will result in a sun and landscape that doesn’t look all that different from normal to the naked eye. The sun is so bright that if even one percent of normal light gets through, it can obscure viewing. Besides shielding your eyes from permanent damage, this is what eclipse glasses are used for: to see the moon sliding in front of the sun in areas where it would be impossible – and damaging – to do so otherwise.
North Carolina drivers have been seeing warnings about eclipse traffic on light-up message boards on highways, but it certainly isn’t the first time folks have been warned about eclipse-related incidents. The fog and dew resulting in the sudden drop in temperature when Earth’s primary heat source is temporarily blocked was considered dangerous by more than one ancient culture. The eclipse itself was seen as an ill omen, and any surface touched by water precipitated because of it was considered tainted. Pregnant women have also been warned to not carry sharp objects, eat cooked food or even go outside during any part of an eclipse, for reasons ranging from self-inflicted wounds caused by temporary madness to demonic presences finding their way into the womb. Hopefully all we’ll have to worry about is a traffic jam on the Blue Ridge Parkway.