After all the hype, it’s finally here.
The Great American Eclipse is Monday, a huge event nationwide, and certainly among the biggest in Columbia’s history. South Carolina’s capital city has been identified by astronomy experts as one of the best places to view it in the country.
Here, 17 things to know about the eclipse.
BEING IN THE PATH IS HUGE
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Parts of 14 states – including South Carolina and Columbia – are in the “path of totality,” a roughly 70-mile-wide coast-to-coast swath where the total solar eclipse can be seen. Everyone outside the path will see only a partial eclipse.
GRAND ENTRANCE – AND EXIT
The eclipse makes landfall in the United States about 12:04 p.m. at Lincoln Beach, Ore.; the total eclipse leaves the Atlantic coast around Charleston, South Carolina, at about 2:49 p.m.
SOUTH CAROLINA ECLIPSE TIMES
Statewide, a partial eclipse in South Carolina begins at 1:08 p.m. and continues until about 4:09 p.m. Here is the approach in a sampling of South Carolina communities:
Greenwood, Laurens, Abbeville
Charleston, Mount Pleasant
WHERE ARE THE BEST SPOTS IN SOUTH CAROLINA TO VIEW IT?
Among metro areas, Columbia has the longest time of darkness – at 2 minutes and 30 seconds downtown. In Greenville, it lasts about 2 minutes and 10 seconds, and in Charleston, about 1 minute and 31 seconds.
WHAT WILL I SEE DURING A TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE?
During a total solar eclipse, as the disk of the moon blocks out the last sliver of light from the sun, the sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, becomes visible. The corona isn’t an indistinct haze; sky watchers report seeing great jets and ribbons of light, twisting and curling out into the sky.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE BIGGEST EVENTS IN TOWN MONDAY?
There are several, including Total Eclipse of the Park baseball at Spirit Communications Park; Total Eclipse Tailgate at the State Fairgrounds; and Total Solar Eclipse Experience at Benedict College’s Charlie W. Johnson Stadium. Find a list of events, along with availability, at www.totaleclipsecolumbiasc.com.
IS THERE SOME PLACE I CAN JUST GO AND WATCH THE ECLIPSE WITHOUT A RESERVATION?
There are several places – at the University of South Carolina, Lexington County Baseball Stadium and the State House, for example. The five city of Columbia parks also have been designated as public viewing sites· Drew Park (2101 Walker Solomon Way); Finlay Park (930 Laurel St.), Owens Field Park (1351 Jim Hamilton Blvd.), Riverfront Park (312 Laurel St., 4122 River Dr.), Southeast Park (951 Hazelwood Rd.).
Solar eclipse glasses, from the approved manufacturer, will be available for guests while supplies last. Restrooms, portable toilets, hand-washing stations and water stations will be available on site.
IS HEAVY TRAFFIC EXPECTED?
Expect congested travel on interstates and major highways. The main thing officials want to prevent is drivers stopping on the interstates during the eclipse to watch. Message boards will be used to relay that message.
The Highway Patrol encourages motorists to plan ahead and designate a safe and legal place to park during the eclipse.
If you decide to leave Columbia to view the eclipse elsewhere, make the call and leave in the early morning, since interstates around the state could get congested with daytrippers heading for communities in the path of totality.
ARE ANY STREETS OR BRIDGES BEING CLOSED DOWNTOWN?
Right now, there are no plans to close down any streets or bridges in downtown Columbia or surrounding areas. There are no announced plans for lane reversals to help with traffic flow, either.
WHAT ABOUT PARKING?
Columbia’s public parking garages will be open, and on-street meters will operate as usual in downtown districts.
Prepare to pay cash only at the city’s Washington Street, Taylor Street, Lady Street, Park Street, Lincoln Street and PJ Cannon (corner of Taylor and Sumter streets) garages on eclipse day. A $10 daily event parking fee will be charged.
City-owned surface parking lots on Sumter, Devine and Harden streets also will be available for parking Monday. And the parking lot at the Columbia Metropolitan Convention Center will be open for parking on the day of the eclipse. The cost to park in any of the lots Monday will be $10 cash.
Coveted on-street parking meters, as always, cost 75 cents an hour and operate until 6 p.m. downtown. You can pay with coins or the PassportParking smartphone app.
Of course, chances are good you’ll find numerous private lots charging their own parking rates.
Regardless of where you end up parking, the best advice is: Bring cash.
WHAT DO I NEED TO KNOW ABOUT LOOKING AT THE ECLIPSE?
Ordinary sunglasses, no matter how dark, are inadequate because sunlight is intense. The only period it will be safe to watch the eclipse without specially made eyewear is when the moon totally blacks out the sun – in Columbia, that’s from roughly 2:41 p.m. to 2:44 p.m.
WHAT ABOUT ECLIPSE GLASSES?
To address concerns regarding fake or counterfeit eclipse safety glasses, the American Astronomical Society now recommends that you no longer look only for the safety language and ISO with reference number 12312-2. The AAS, along with NASA – the authorities on space – advise people to make sure their eclipse glasses are from these reputable manufacturers:
- American Paper Optics (Eclipser)
- APM Telescopes (Sunfilter Glasses)
- Baader Planetarium (AstroSolar Silver/Gold Film)
- Celestron (EclipSmart Glasses & Viewers)
- DayStar (Solar Glasses)
- Explore Scientific (Solar Eclipse Sun Catcher Glasses)
- Lunt Solar Systems (SUNsafe SUNglasses)
- Meade Instruments (EclipseView Glasses & Viewers)
- Rainbow Symphony (Eclipse Shades)
- Seymour Solar (Helios Glasses)
- Solar Eclipse International / Cangnan County Qiwei Craft Co.* (plastic glasses only)
- Thousand Oaks Optical (Silver-Black Polymer & SolarLite)
- TSE 17 (Solar Filter Foil)
If you’re picking up free glasses somewhere, it’s worth it to ask the manufacturer’s name.
WHERE CAN I GET GLASSES?
Most eclipse glasses have been snapped up quickly in the weeks ahead of the eclipse. But if you’re attending one of the 120 events affiliated with the city of Columbia or Total Eclipse Weekend Columbia SC, the glasses being distributed are from an approved manufacturer.
Major retailers such as Target and Lowe’s have carried glasses, though inventory is spotty.
If you don’t have a pair of glasses, wait for the darkness to glance skyward.
CAN I TAKE A PICTURE OF THE ECLIPSE WITH MY SMARTPHONE?
Technically yes, but the quality will be rather poor, since smartphone cameras were not designed with astrophotography in mind.
NASA itself debates whether smartphone photos of the eclipse can damage the phone’s camera.
Some photographers argue that the tiny lens is too small to admit damaging light to the sensor, and that the cameras automatically set exposures for very short times. Others note that recent cameras come with bigger, faster lenses.
There’s also the danger of inadvertently hurting your eyes by simply pointing your phone toward the sun, the space agency says.
“The best thing to do is to cover the camera lens with a solar filter during the moments before (and after) totality when the sunlight is still blinding. This will eliminate sun glare blooming and give you a clear image of the solar disk,” NASA says. Eclipse glasses will do.
iPhone maker Apple, however, says pointing an iPhone at the sun – even during the eclipse – won’t damage its camera sensor or lens.
As for your camera, there is no valid reason why you would want to point your smartphone camera at the brilliant, un-eclipsed sun without putting a filter over the lens. During totality, you do not need the filter, of course.
There are many styles of telephoto lenses for smartphones. Avoid the “clip on” lenses because they constantly slip and have to be precisely lined up on the camera lens to work. They are often of low optical quality. The best lenses are rated as 12x and above, and come with their own smartphone mounting bracket. At these magnifications, a tripod is essential because of camera jitter. The telephoto lens will give you enough magnification that you will clearly see some of the details in the bright corona.
IS MY CELLPHONE GOING TO WORK?
Wireless communication companies say they are gearing up to minimize congestion on social media. The four major companies – AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon – are preparing to allow easy sharing of videos, photos, texts, emails and telephone calls. Officials at T-Mobile, for example, say portable transmission towers will be stationed around the Midlands to boost service – something other companies are considering as well.
WILL COLUMBIA DIM STREETLIGHTS FOR VIEWING?
No. That may be a nuisance for watching the eclipse if you’re close to one. But it’s impractical to remove sensors controlling the hundreds of lights and then replace them before evening, state transportation and Columbia public works officials say.
The lights are activated by declining sunlight. How long each light stays on will vary with the angle of sunlight as the eclipse arrives and leaves, officials said.
WHAT’S THE WORD ON BUSINESSES?
It will be business as usual for some workers on the public payroll in the Columbia area during the eclipse. State offices as well as those in Lexington County, Richland County and Columbia are slated to be open.
But operations at some city offices will be suspended from noon-3 p.m. – municipal court, human resources, parking services, all payment centers and other offices at the corner of Main and Washington streets. Most of those offices are downtown near the site of events expected to attract crowds.
Richland County employees will be allowed to take a break to view the event. Those in Lexington County can do so if a supervisor approves.
Richland Library will close at noon.
No major employer in the Midlands has announced plans to close that day.
Contributing: State staff writers, NASA, USA Today, kgw.com, Charlotte Observer