The entire country has been buzzing for months about August 21, when a total eclipse will be visible across a wide swath of the United States for the first time since 1979. Phenomena chasers, nature lovers, astronomy fans and so many others will flock towards Western North Carolina where the “Path of Totality” will fall in areas about 50-70 miles west of Asheville. (Note: the full path of totality spans from Oregon to South Carolina and is about 70 miles wide.) The eclipse transition will begin around 1 p.m. and end around 4 p.m. Depending on your exact location in Western North Carolina, the full eclipse will occur at approximately 2:35 p.m. and will last for several minutes.

While eclipses happen twice a year on average, they are not always visible. Total solar eclipses occur every one to two years but may only be visible from less than half a percent of the Earth’s total surface. Often times, they appear over the ocean, in other countries or cloudy skies make them impossible to see. In Western North Carolina, the last total eclipse was in 1506, and the region will not see another one until 2153. Because of the rarity of this natural phenomenon, thousands of people will be driving to Jackson, Swain and Graham Counties and upstate South Carolina to experience the full eclipse. At The North Carolina Arboretum, visitors will almost experience the full eclipse with 99 percent coverage.

An almost Total Eclipse

What does a 99 percent eclipse look like in comparison to a full eclipse? Since the sun’s light is so strong, even the smallest bit of visibility of the sun’s rays will eliminate the chance of total darkness. However, the partial coverage will cause some dimming and cast out a variety of interesting visual effects compared to a normal day. According to Steve Martin, an adult education instructor at the Arboretum, a 99 percent eclipse will allow shadows to become remarkably sharp and more unique. At places like the Arboretum where there are an abundance of trees, leaves will act as pinhole cameras and show partial phases of the eclipse on the ground – a great opportunity for photographers to capture some interesting images!

For those unable to travel or who want to avoid potential traffic problems, the Arboretum will be hosting its Arboretum (almost) Total Eclipse event on August 21, starting at 8 a.m. The first 250 cars that arrive that day will receive a free pair of eclipse viewing glasses.

Whether you make the trek to experience complete darkness or stay in town for an alternative viewing, get outside on August 21 (with your glasses!) and experience this once-in-a-lifetime event.

Photo credit: Total solar eclipse sequence by Rick Fienberg / TravelQuest International / Wilderness Travel. Partial eclipse by Steve Martin.