Shelf Life: Celebrating the Great American Eclipse

Published 10:00 pm Tuesday, August 1, 2017

It’s less than three weeks until the “Great American Eclipse” makes its way across the United States for the first time in a century. At approximately 2:30 p.m. on Monday, August 21, the moon will completely cover the sun and the corona will be seen for about two and a half minutes over the Greenville, S.C. area, as the eclipse travels across the country from Oregon. While those of us in Polk County will not get to experience a total eclipse, there will be 99.77 percent obscuration of the sun here as the moon crosses in front of it.

I had the pleasure of watching the short film “Totality” last weekend in the planetarium at Bays Mountain Park in Kingsport, Tenn. and learned some interesting information from the movie as well as online research. During a total solar eclipse, the brighter stars and the planets can be seen. Animals are confused, thinking it is nighttime, and return to their homes to sleep. Crickets start chirping. The temperature drops as darkness descends. It is said to be an amazing and magical experience. Which must explain why there are even people known as eclipse chasers, who follow total solar eclipses around the world to and stake out their viewing spots years in advance!

(Souce: NASA)

Just how special is a total solar eclipse? While one happens somewhere around the world every year or two, the last one visible within the continental United States was 38 years ago. And it will be 2078 before North Carolina sees another total solar eclipse. Therefore, this really is a once-in-a-lifetime event!

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If you decide not to travel to the path of totality due to traffic or some other reason, check out the Polk County Solar Eclipse Party at Harmon Field from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. that day. Back in May, the library’s Program Coordinator Amelia Hill, along with Polk County Early College teacher Linda Sutton, attended a training at the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute in Rosman, N.C. to become eclipse experts. They are planning an awesome party for us, including music, crafts, and activities themed around the solar system. Foothills BBQ will be open for lunch and snack purchases during the party. For more information or to arrange for a booth, contact Amelia at

Another important thing to remember about the eclipse is eye safety! According to NASA, you can only look directly at the sun during a partial eclipse with special-purpose solar filters. Free sun-viewing glasses will be available for the first 200 people who arrive at the Polk County Solar Eclipse Party. There will also be two eclipse education events held at the Columbus Library, where you can make pinhole sun projectors. Join us on Tuesday, August 8 or 13 at 3 p.m. to make the projectors, explore a scaled solar system on the library’s nature trail, and participate in other activities to prepare you for the solar eclipse.

I am super excited about the Great American Eclipse and plan to head to the Greenville area that day for totality, traffic permitting. I am hoping for clear skies and no rain or clouds!

Jen Pace Dickenson is the Youth Services Librarian for Polk County Public Libraries. For information about the library’s resources, programs, and other services, visit or call 828-894-8721.