Columbia’s darkest day is coming this summer, and the city and surrounding areas couldn’t be more excited.
That’s because people in Columbia on Aug. 21 will be among a small percentage of the U.S. population to witness a rare total solar eclipse. Our geographic good fortune puts us in a narrow path of totality that begins in Oregon and ends in South Carolina. Columbia has the longest total eclipse for a metro area on the East Coast.
Now, this is probably not the first you’ve heard about the eclipse, and it certainly won’t be the last. The reason is simple: It’s a big deal.
According to astronomy experts and those who have witnessed eclipses, the difference between a partial and total eclipse is huge.
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Only during a total eclipse do you get a 360-degree sunset, sudden temperature drop, and a clear view of the sun’s corona. Witnesses have reported feeling goosebumps and euphoria at the spectacle.
“Even those who know what is happening can be caught off guard by a total solar eclipse,” eclipse consultant Dr. Kate Russo said. “It is eerie, awe-inspiring, unsettling, beautiful and often emotionally overwhelming.”
The last total solar eclipse over the continental U.S. was in February 1979, when it was visible only from five Northwestern states. The last coast-to-coast eclipse in U.S. was in 1918. The next time a total solar eclipse will be visible from the greater Columbia area will be the year 2078.
Experts estimate that this total solar eclipse will be the most watched eclipse in the history of the world as we know it. Astronomers have noted that visitors traveling to see a total eclipse can double the population of a city in the path of totality during a total eclipse event. City leaders and planners in Columbia and nearby towns plan to make the area an eclipse destination by creating a weekend-long celebration throughout the Midlands with eclipse-related events, workshops and viewing parties.
Here’s what we know so far about eclipse happenings in Columbia.
What is an eclipse anyway?
An eclipse occurs when the moon moves between Earth and the sun and the three celestial bodies form a straight line.
What do I need to know about the eclipse in Columbia?
At 2:41 p.m. on Monday, Aug. 21, Columbia will get 2 minutes and 36 seconds of darkness – more than another other S.C. city.
In Columbia, the partial eclipse will begin at 1:13 p.m. When the total eclipse ends at 2:44 p.m., a partial eclipse will resume until 4:06 p.m.
Who’s coming to town?
NASA estimates that South Carolina could see an influx of up to 1 million visitors to witness the eclipse. Astronomy experts have noted that visitors can double the population of a city in the path of totality during a total eclipse event.
So far, hotel occupancy in Columbia for eclipse weekend is mixed, according to the Midlands Authority for Conventions, Sports & Tourism. Some hotels are at or close to full occupancy. Others have some availability but anticipate selling out.
What is changing for the day?
One big change will be for South Carolina students.
State law typically prohibits school districts from starting the year before the third Monday in August – which this year falls on the day of the eclipse. But the legislature approved a measure, and the governor signed it, allowing school for the 2017-18 year to start as early as Thursday, Aug. 17, because of the eclipse.
Several school districts in Richland and Lexington counties already have said they will be closed on eclipse day Monday, Aug. 21. Among those announced so far are Richland 1, Richland 2, Lexington 1 and Lexington 2.
And the University of South Carolina has changed its move-in dates to Tuesday and Wednesday, Aug. 22-23, specifically because of the eclipse. However, there will probably still be crossover among eclipse chasers and parents helping their students with move-in.
Where are the best places to be?
Dozens of Columbia area events are in the works for the weekend of the eclipse. Among Midlands events on tap so far:
▪ The S.C. State Museum will host ticketed events all weekend, with a special appearance by S.C. native and Apollo 16 astronaut Gen. Charles Duke as well as programs in the Boeing Observatory and planetarium.
▪ Columbia Fireflies will have a “Total Eclipse of the Park” game and viewing event during the eclipse.
▪ Solar 17 at Lake Murray will be an event with tents and free eclipse glasses.
▪ There will be an eclipse eve drive-in movie at Historic Columbia Speedway in Cayce.
▪ Tapp’s Arts Center will host solar eclipse plays.
▪ The S.C. Philharmonic’s show, “Star Wars Musiclipse,” will be a special presentation of music from the Star Wars saga.
▪ Congaree National Park programming will include “Shadows and Science in the Wilderness” and ranger-led hikes during the eclipse.
▪ The public can attend the American Astronomical Society's free solar eclipse conference from 9 a.m.-noon March 31 and April 1 in Columbia.
For a full list of events, visit www.totaleclipsecolumbiasc.com
What else is happening?
The city will get a new art piece titled “Lasers at the River.” It will be a lighting installation between the Blossom and Gervais street bridges that will launch in celebration of the eclipse.
This installation will have argon ion lasers positioned on either side of the bridges and will use mirrors to reflect blue to green beams of light. The piece is expected to last between 8-10 years and be turned on after dusk each night for about three hours.
Artist Chris Robinson, an associate professor of studio art at the University of South Carolina, is creating the piece, which is a partnership of What’s Next Midlands, The Vista Guild, EdVenture, S.C. State Museum, One Columbia for Arts and History and the City of Columbia.
Eclipse glasses and viewing safety
Anyone planning to witness a total solar eclipse needs certified protective glasses. While the 2 minutes and 36 seconds of the total eclipse is viewable without glasses, viewers need glasses before and after totality.
The Total Eclipse Weekend steering committee has been working with the largest producer of eclipse glasses nationwide to secure discounts for local Columbia organizations planning events for the eclipse.