The 2017 Total Solar Eclipse Will Pass Through the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina
On Monday August 21, millions of Americans will gather along the 70-mile-wide path of the nation’s first total solar eclipse since the 1970s. From Oregon to South Carolina, the moon’s shadow will race southeastward across the country at speeds of exceeding 1500 miles per hour.
Bryson City, Swain County and much of the Great Smoky Mountains sit squarely in that path of totality. The 70-mile-wide disk of total darkness will reach Bryson City at 2:35:12 pm and be gone in less than two minutes – a brief but unforgettable celestial display. And we invite you to share the event with us here in the Great Smoky Mountains of North Carolina.
Don’t Just Come for the Big Day. Make it Three-day Eclipse Weekend
With the eclipse happening on Monday, you’ll want to make a weekend of it and enjoy the special events we’re planning for Saturday and Sunday, leading up to the big event on the 21st. With all the outdoor activities Bryson City offers, there’s no better place to spend a late summer weekend —
White water rafting and zip lining in the Nantahala Gorge
Riding a scenic excursion on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad
Trout fishing on dozens of mountain streams and rivers
Lake fishing and boating on Fontana Lake
Tubing on Deep Creek in the Great Smokies National Park
Hiking and mountain biking at Tsali
Stand-up paddleboarding on the Tuck in downtown Bryson City
After activities, relax with a cool one at a local brewery. Or treat the kids to ice cream at a local soda fountain. Then complete the day with dinner at one of many downtown eateries.
There’s plenty of lodging, but make your reservations early.
The Bryson City area has plenty of lodging, from mountain cabins and vacation rentals, to bed and breakfasts, country inns, hotels and motels. For complete listings, visit GreatSmokies.com/lodging.
What Will Happen During the 2017 Total Solar Eclipse?
A total solar eclipse occurs when the earth, moon and sun are in perfect alignment – an extremely rare occurrence that many people never get to witness. For the fortunate ones, it’s a once in a lifetime experience.
While it’s true that all the US will witness at least some degree of partial eclipse on August 21, only those in a 70-mile-wide, cross-country path are guaranteed a blackened sun and total darkness. In Bryson City, the entire solar experience will last about an hour, from 2:06 pm to 3 pm, gradually changing from daylight to dark and back to daylight. The one minute and 57 seconds of total solar eclipse begins at 2:35 pm.
As the moon moves in front of the sun, it will first appear like a small ‘bite’ taken out of an apple. Gradually, the ‘bite’ will become larger and larger as daylight becomes dimmer and dimmer. As more of the sun is covered by the moon, the sun will take on a crescent shape that continues to get thinner until the sun is completely covered and turns black. This transition will take about a half hour.
Shortly before and after the total eclipse (at about 85 percent coverage) you should be able to see Venus 34° west-northwest of the sun.
As the crescent disappears into total black, tiny specks of light will be visible around the edge of the sun. These specks of light are called Baily's Beads and are the last rays of sunlight shining through the valleys on the edge of the moon.
Once the sun is totally eclipsed, the sun's corona will be seen shining in all directions around the moon. This is a spectacular sight since the only time the sun's corona or crown can be seen is during a total solar eclipse. It's all over by 2:00 pm.
During total darkness the temperature may drop 10 to 15 degrees, birds will stop singing, and stars will be visible in the daytime sky.
The transition back to full daylight will be the reverse of the above.
There won’t be another total eclipse in the United States until April 8, 2024. That one will begin in Mexico, enter the US at Texas, then follow a diagonal path to Maine before entering the easternmost provinces of Canada.
Viewing the Eclipse in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park
A number of websites and publications recommend the Smokies National Park for viewing the 2017 solar eclipse, particularly at the highest elevations. The Great American Eclipse writes:
"Weather permitting, the Great Smoky Mountains will offer great vistas for the eclipse. Clingmans Dome will be an intriguing location to view the eclipse due to its expansive views. This site provides the possibility of seeing the Moon’s shadow racing across the landscape, a dramatic sight that will add another dimension to your experience of the eclipse."
Clingmans will be a great viewing location, but its capacity is severely limited. To control the crowd and traffic, the National Park Service will institute a lottery system for issuing tickets. Details to come.
If you don’t win the lottery, Bryson City — at the very edge of the Smokies Park — offers a number of excellent viewing locations. One location is a large field at Darnell Farms on the Tuckasegee River just east of Bryson City. (other locations and map to come)
For a Different View of the Eclipse, Look Down
Looking into the sky (with protective glasses of course) is only half of the eclipse experience. You get the other half by looking down, especially if you’re near a tree.
At around three-quarters coverage, you’ll begin to notice that shadows are getting sharper. That’s because the sun’s disk is shrinking, literally approaching a point – a smaller light source that produces sharply-defined shadows. The tree’s leaves act like pinhole cameras projecting hundreds of crescent suns in their shadows.
If no trees are available at your viewing location, punch a small round hole in a sheet of poster board, and hold it high so that the sunlight shines through to the ground. As you look at the ground, you will see the crescent shape of the near-eclipse projected on the surface below. This is also a safe way to view the eclipse if you don’t have protective glasses.
Safe Viewing of the Eclipse
During the few brief moments of total solar eclipse, it’s perfectly safe to view the darkened sun with your naked eyes. With the moon’s disk completely covering the sun, there are no harmful UV rays to damage your eyes. In fact, to fully experience the viewing of the corona ('crown'), viewers are encouraged to look at the sun without a filter during totality.
But the moment the first glint of a ray begins to appear, viewers must put their protective glasses or filters back on. Even the UV rays in the smallest beam of direct sunlight, while painless, can cause permanent damage to the eye. More info about eclipse-watching safety.
While a limited amount of protective eye wear may be available when you arrive in Bryson City, we recommend purchasing your protective eye wear before you leave home. Make sure the glasses are certified for solar viewing; sunglasses are not. There are many online sources, including:
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