“You’ll go blind!” they would say. Well, the next total solar eclipse is coming up soon, on Aug. 21, and you’ll need to be ready if you want to view it safely.
Downtown Jonesborough is ready with plans for an eclipse block party set for that afternoon. Live music, yoga in the park, arts and crafts and face painting are in the works for a fun day for the whole family.
Melinda Copp, director for the Main Street Jonesborough Program, said the party doubles as a fun event and an educational opportunity. Jonesborough holds several events throughout the year.
“We thought it would be fun for the community to come on down,” Copp said.
It will be the first solar eclipse for many people. Washington County Schools will be letting out early for the students and faculty so they can have the educational experience of seeing a full solar eclipse — and attend the party. The last full solar eclipse seen by the United States was on Feb. 26, 1979. While smaller solar eclipses have been observable in the are between then and now, none of them have ever been as full as this one, which will be at 97 percent totality in Northeast Tennessee.
The path of full totality is as close as Townshend, Maryville and Farragut, Tennessee, and Cherokee, North Carolina.
As fun as it will be, be warned.
For solar eclipses, NASA strongly recommends protective solar eye wear. Viewers can actually go blind by looking at a solar eclipse while unprotected from its harsh ultra-violet rays. Luckily for the locals, the Johnson City Public Library will be handing out free eyewear.
As for the block party, the Appalachian Celestial Festival will be held between 1 and 4 p.m. The protective eyewear will be handed out at the festival, too. East Tennessee State University professor Richard Ignace is an astrophysicist who will be giving five-minute presentations in the International Storytelling Center. Anyone may come in and out in the intervals when he explains in more detail about the eclipse — what is is, when it happens, how it happens — and he’ll also show off a few materials, such as maps, globes, telescopes and the eclipse’s cultural history.
NASA is also providing a live stream on its website for those who want to watch its continuum across the United States, which will be playing in the International Storytelling Center during the festival.
If you’re not much of a party-goer, anyone can step out on their front porch and watch the celestial spectacle. The solar eclipse will take place at exactly 2:36 p.m. and will last for only a couple of minutes before the sun and moon shift away once again.
All children should be supervised during the event while with their eyewear. Looking through any refractive lens, including cameras, isn’t recommended, as the rays will be magnified through the lens and into the eye. To review the rest of the safety procedures, visit https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/safety.
Carter County students will also be able to enjoy the rare event instead of attending classes on the afternoon of Aug. 21.
Director of Schools Kevin Ward said the schools will serve lunch and begin dismissing students beginning at 11:30 a.m. Although the eclipse will not be total in the Tri-Cities, the early dismissal might allow families adequate time to take their children closer to the path of totality in the Knoxville area around 2:35 p.m.
Ward said there will be no extracurricular activities at the county schools on the afternoon of Aug. 21 until after 4 p.m. For more information, call 423-547-4000.
Sullivan County Director of Schools Evelyn Rafalowski said she will recommend Monday that the Board of Education approve using the eclipse on Aug. 21 as an “inclement weather” day — as allowed by Tennessee Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen — after other options were carefully considered.
If the county school system did nothing and held school as usual, Rafalowski said that teenage drivers and school bus drivers would face mid-day darkness when the high schools dismiss at 2:20 p.m. In addition, she said students might be tempted to look at the eclipse from the bus without eye protection and risk eye injury.
Also, she said, parents, staff and faculty have already asked about taking the day off to view the event locally or travel to Nashville or Columbia.
If it’s approved, Sullivan County schools students would have a four-day weekend, with Friday already scheduled off because of racing at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Hawkins County students will get a half-day off on Aug. 21.
“In a few years, we want people to think back to the solar eclipse and ask, ‘Where were you during the solar eclipse?’ ” Copp said.
After this solar eclipse, the next total solar eclipse won’t show its face until April 8, 2024, but it will not be seen from Tennessee.