WCU astronomer to host lecture about upcoming solar eclipse

Apr 13, 2017
Photo by: Donated Enrique Gomez, associate professor of astronomy and physics at Western Carolina University, will give a presentation to help the public understand the total solar eclipse in August.

CULLOWHEE – A total solar eclipse will darken the skies over a slice of Western North Carolina in August, and Enrique Gomez, associate professor of astronomy and physics at Western Carolina University, is planning a presentation to help the public understand the celestial phenomenon.

The public lecture, titled “The Great American Eclipse of 2017: What to Expect and How to Experience It,” will begin at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 25, in the theater of A.K. Hinds University Center. The event is open free of charge.

The upcoming total solar eclipse has been dubbed “The Great American Solar Eclipse” because a narrow but lengthy swath of North America from coast to coast will experience a period of total darkness during the daytime hours of Monday, Aug. 21.

“My intent for this presentation is to talk primarily about the science of an eclipse and how to experience the eclipse safely,” said Gomez. “This will be the first total solar eclipse across the continental United States since 1979, and the WCU campus in Cullowhee will be in the path of totality.

Gomez will explain the peculiarities of solar eclipses of the Earth-moon system; discuss geometric and atmospheric effects that can be expected during this event; and share proper observing techniques for a memorable, as well as safe, viewing experience.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the entirety of the moon passes in front of the sun and completely covers it, resulting in daytime darkness. Eclipse watchers should use special solar viewing glasses to avoid damage to the eyes from the sun’s intense rays, which are not blocked by the moon.

The Aug. 21 happening will mark the first total solar eclipse visible in Cullowhee since July 20, 1506. The next one, astronomers say, will occur Oct. 17, 2153, making the 2017 eclipse a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Cullowhee and the surrounding area will be experiencing nearly 2 minutes of total darkness beginning at 2:35 p.m. Aug. 21, making it a probable prime viewing location, he said. Only the nearby town of Cashiers, with 2 minutes and 23 seconds of darkness, will experience longer totality in Jackson County.