When the Sun and the Moon Align

Visitors to the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in Rosman anticipate the Great American Eclipse on August 21. Pictured left to right: Josie Chappell, Christopher Daves, Elizabeth Daves, Emily Long, Callie Chappell, Kyndall Harrison and Skylar Harrison. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

According to legend, a solar eclipse happens because a dragon swallows the sun. However, not even ancient monsters could devour the cosmic serendipity that will descend on Brevard Music Festival this summer. The venue’s director of marketing and communications, Cally Jamis Vennare, says “the stars aligned.” But it’s all about the moon: on Monday, August 21, it will slip silently between the earth and the sun, throwing complete darkness for a few awe-inspiring minutes during the first total solar eclipse to happen in the contiguous United States in 38 years. (It’s the only one to track the whole country in a century.)

Brevard is in the coveted, 70-mile-wide “path of totality” for the ultra-rare celestial event, occurring at 2:36pm. Hotel rooms have been booked for months, and, happily for Brevard Music Festival organizers, the date lines up with important finale concerts at the summer-long event, including August headliner Lyle Lovett, plus themed movies and capacity VIP happenings engineered as fundraisers.

Nearby Gorges State Park, known for its waterfalls, is North Carolina’s only state park within the path of totality. An eclipse party will run all day, but viewers are encouraged to get on the scene before 11am.

Extraordinarily well located for the upcoming phenomenon, PARI is home to some of the most advanced astronomical equipment in the world. Photo by Rimas Zailskas

The $100-a-head tickets for viewing at Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in Rosman, also in Transylvania County, sold out on April 21, exactly four months before the eclipse. But that’s hardly the only cosmic coincidence happening there: PARI is a former NASA facility that’s still doing space research and public education from a remote area of Pisgah National Forest, and thus the internationally respected observatory couldn’t be better located to study the eclipse.

“This event was truly meant for PARI,” says spokesman Chris Price, who expects to hosts NASA scientists as well as the curious public. “[This] is the only place where the total eclipse will occur directly over some of the most advanced astronomical equipment in the world,” he reveals. Price cites two 26-meter radio telescopes, a 4.6-meter radio telescope, and a 12-meter radio telescope. Because of this “unique convergence,” he says, “PARI will be able to conduct scientific study of a total eclipse that has never before been possible.”

Partial solar eclipses happen all the time and can be hard to notice; total solar eclipses are way more noteworthy, but almost never travel across densely populated areas like the one this month, which will start in central Oregon and sweep off the coast of South Carolina. The midday sun will disappear — except for the stunning glow of the corona — the birds will stop singing, and the sky will go eerily dark. Even if it rains, it will still seem like night, and special eclipse glasses are required to look at the sun in any weather. Local cities just outside the path of totality (Hendersonville, Tryon, etc.) will still experience over 99-percent blackout — and plenty of extra visitor dollars. In the Henderson County Tourism Development Authority office, executive director Beth Carden says the business community should definitely experience a financial uptick, mostly because of overflow from neighboring communities: eclipse viewers seeking hotel rooms and restaurants.

Linda Sutton is a teacher and advisor with the Polk County Early College Science Club, a group that’s sponsoring a free viewing event at Harmon Field, and her mission is safety. “It’s important we get the word out,” she says. “In this area it is never, at any time, safe to look at the sun without a solar viewing device.” (Preparing for the big day, Sutton and her group went to a training workshop at PARI.)

For all the scientific study, financial gain, and partying that the Great American Eclipse is generating, there’s still that element that suggests something more mysterious is at work. Belinda Dunn is an astrologist in Arden who’s published articles about eclipses, and she has her eye on this one. “Eclipses are psychologically demanding,” she feels. “They tend to increase emotional reactivity and uncover issues that may not be readily visible.” Historically, she reports, they can “signal unforeseen change and upheaval in matters that are specific to the zodiac sign of the eclipse.” August 21 falls at the end of headstrong Leo, the sign of leadership, so in this case, she says, “the eclipse will challenge people to take charge of their lives: connect with inner strength rather than giving power away.”

And yet her own plans for the eclipse align pretty closely with the general goal. On that day, says Dunn, “I will be driving to South Carolina to be in the exact area for direct viewing, and celebrate with friends.”

Eclipse parties and events will take place on August 21 all over Western North Carolina. Here are a few choice venues for observing this rare event.

Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute
August 21
The event at PARI (in Rosman, about 6 miles from Brevard) is sold out but their website is both informative and entertaining. See www.pari.edu/things-to-do/2017-eclipse for details.

The Polk County Solar Eclipse Party
August 21, 11am-3pm
A free event, the Eclipse Party happens at Harmon Field in Tryon, with music, refreshments for sale, and on-site eclipse glasses available. BYO chair, bug spray, and jacket for the chilly darkness. For more information, see polklibrary.org/solar-eclipse-party or contact Linda Sutton at lsutton@polkschools.org. For general eclipse facts, see eclipse2017.org.

Solar Eclipse Day at Henderson County Library
August 21, 1-3pm
Hands On! Children’s Gallery will host activities; then everyone goes to the field behind the library to view the eclipse. (Also expect a live stream from NASA in Kaplan Auditorium.) 301 N. Washington St., Hendersonville. www.henderson.lib.nc.us.

Eclipse at Gorges State Park
August 21, 10am-4pm
Gorges State Park is the only North Carolina state park in the “path of totality” for the 2017 total solar eclipse. Stake out a spot before 11am to best see the natural phenomenon. There will be music, food, and vendors. Gorges State Park, 976 Grassy Ridge Road, Sapphire. ncparks.gov/gorges-state-park. 828-966-9099.

Eclipse Weekend
August 18-21
Brevard Music Center’s Eclipse Weekend features Lyle Lovett in concert, showings of Apollo 13 and 2001: A Space Odyssey on the big screen, and a “Total Eclipse of the Sun” fundraiser for the Music Center with BBQ, live music, and more VIP benefits. Brevard Music Center, 349 Andante Lane, Brevard. www.brevardmusic.org. 828-862-2100.

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