Watch the Solar Eclipse

Eclipses are a kind of phenomena that disrupts the normal course of nature. There is nothing so constant in nature as the movements of the sun and moon across the sky. So whenever something threatens their faithfulness, civilizations have created stories and myths to explain them. Most often stories involve creatures eating the sun or moon. In fact, the old Chinese word for eclipse means “to eat.” Jane Lee recounts a clever Hindi myth in National Geographic in which a demon tries to gain immortality by stealing a special elixir but the sun and moon tell the gods on him. The god, Vishnu, cuts off his head before he can swallow it. His head is now immortal but not his body is not. In revenge, he chases the sun and moon and occasionally swallows them but they drop out of the bottom of his head. Others made lots of noise to scare the demons away and leave the celestial bodies alone. Not all cultures have reacted as fearfully to this phenomenon. One African culture uses the time to resolve differences and repair broken friendships. If the sun and moon see the people on earth getting along, maybe they will stop fighting as well. (Lee, Jane. "Solar Eclipse Myths From Around the World." National Geographic. Nov 2013. )

Today, of course, we understand that the sun and moon are passing in front of one another. Nevertheless, this celestial dance is impressive to watch. The August 21st eclipse passes through a large swath of the state of Tennessee. The eclipse will take place between one and four in afternoon, with totality occurring around 2:30 EST or 1:30 CST. Even those not in the zone of totality will see up to a 93% coverage. NASA has an interactive map that describes where and when the eclipse can be seen as it crosses North America. See map. 

While you may be leaving some unresolved issues at home, you will most likely be arriving in time to make new friends around the August 21st eclipse. There are many groups that will be organizing to watch the eclipse. Watch for flyers on your campus. Some campuses have a good programs for studying astronomy and may therefore open their facilities to the public. Several schools have observatories and programs that feature astronomy. East Tennessee State University has a research program in astronomy. The University of Tennessee, Knoxville has a distinguished faculty in their Physics & Astronomy program. The University of Chattanooga uses the Clarence T. Jones Observatory which is also open and free to the public.

If you simply enjoy learning about the stars, Tennessee has several planetariums you can visit. Bays Mountain in the Tri-Cities area is also a nature park. The University of Memphis has one on its Lambeth campus that is free to the public. Sudekum Planetarium in Nashville offers a range of show and events, including Yoga under the Stars. There are planetariums in Gallatin and Memphis as well. For a list of nearby clubs, visit the Astronomical League’s site. But don’t expect them to bang pots and pans at this eclipse!