Twin Counties ready for the spectacle


This undated image provided by the U.S. Postal Service shows the Total Solar Eclipse Forever stamp, which commemorates the Aug. 21, 2017 eclipse, that changes when you touch it by transforming into an image of the Moon from the heat of a finger.


Staff Writer

Staff Writer

Sunday, August 20, 2017

As the debut of the Great American Eclipse approaches, state and local authorities are cautioning residents to prepare to safely experience the phenomenon.

If hundreds of years of astronomical calculations hold true, the effects of the solar eclipse are slated to begin over Nashville about 1:19 p.m. Monday and will last until 4:06 p.m. The peak of the event will be at 2:45 p.m., when the Twin Counties will experience between 91-95 percent coverage of the sun. In Tarboro, these times will all occur about 1 minute later.

“For our area, it will never reach totality,” said Rebecca Stamilio-Ehret, physics/astronomy instructor at Edgecombe Community College. “At maximum, it will have a small sliver of the sun still showing toward the top of the sun.”

Though solar eclipses occur fairly regularly at some point on the globe, they are visible in the Twin Counties only on rare occasions. Stamilio-Ehret said this event will be the first time the path of totality of a solar eclipse will span the country in nearly 100 years.

“This will be the first total eclipse visible from the United States since Feb. 26, 1979, and the first coast to coast in the contiguous U.S. since June 8, 1918,” Stamlio-Ehret said. “If you miss this one, there will be a total solar eclipse April 8, 2024, that will span from Maine to Texas.”

The rarity and awesome power of an eclipse often compels people, especially children, to look at the sun as it disappears behind the moon. However, Stamilio-Ehret warns there will not be a safe time to view the eclipse from the Twin Counties unless eyes are properly protected.

“It is important that you never look directly at the sun during any part of the partial solar eclipse, Stamilio-Ehret said. “If you are lucky enough to be in the path of totality, the only time it is safe to view the eclipse is the two minutes of totality. But before and after, approved eyewear should be used.”

Approved eclipse viewing glasses can help residents to view the eclipse safely, but these are hard to find in the area now. Prices for the glasses have also escalated as the day approaches. A ten-pack of eclipse viewing glasses that sold for $15 on Amazon.com a month ago is now priced at $159. Residents need to be aware that fake glasses that don’t offer true protection are popping up as well.

However, Stamilo-Ehret said there are other safe ways to experience the eclipse.

“If you cannot find eclipse glasses, you still have options. You can use welder's glass grade 14 or higher that will cause the sun to appear a greenish tint. You can also build a simple pinhole projector using two paper plates and a thumbtack or other device to make a small, round hole. Puncture a hole in the first plate, stand with the sun to your back and adjust the distance between the first and second paper plates to resolve and magnify your projected image,” Stamilio-Ehret said.

Steve Schmidt, space science educator for the Imperial Centre, warns residents that normal sunglasses and many welding glasses will not offer eye protection. Viewing the eclipse without proper protection can do permanent damage to the retina of the eye. Schmidt also warns that cell phone lenses and most camera lenses can be damaged by taking pictures during the eclipse without a proper filter.

Schmidt is setting up a solar eclipse viewing event at the Imperial Centre from 1 to 4 p.m. Monday. During the event, participants will be able to view the solar eclipse through the safely-filtered lens of a telescope and through a filtered hydrogen alpha telescope which will reveal any solar flares that may occur. Safe indirect methods for viewing the eclipse, such as the method described above, also will be demonstrated.

The N.C. Highway Patrol warns residents to expect traffic issues on Monday, especially in areas where the total eclipse can be viewed, such as Western North Carolina and South Carolina. An estimated 7 million people are expected to travel to see the eclipse nationwide on or near that day. 

Motorists are encouraged to use designated parking areas instead of parking along the side of the road during the eclipse. But avoid wearing eclipse glasses while driving. 

Brent Fisher, assistant director of fire and rescue services and emergency management for Nash County Emergency Services, recommends the following sites for more information about eclipse viewing safety.

■ https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/how-to-safely-watch-great-american-eclipse-of-2017

■ https://www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/solar-eclipse-eye-safety

■ https://www.nasa.gov/content/eye-safety-during-a-total-solar-eclipse

■ https://eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-who-what-where-when-and-how