Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students


Astronomy teacher urges eclipse safety

Wesley Roberts, astronomy teacher at Hume-Fogg High School in Nashville, is looking forward to witnessing the historic eclipse of 2017 on the school lawn on Monday. 

“August 21 is the most in-your-face science event of the 21st century,” Roberts said. “It’s rare for a solar eclipse to cover the whole continent. While a partial solar eclipse happens every 18 months, it occurs in totality every 300 years or so. Nashville, Clarksville and the Tennessee portion of the Great Smoky Mountains are in the path of totality. Now that’s something to get excited about!”

Traveling across the sky at about 1,100 mph, the eclipse of 2017 will begin in Salem, Oregon, and will leave the continental United States in Charleston, S.C. A particular alignment of the moon, the sun and the Earth causes the eclipse to take place. As the moon passes between the sun and the Earth, it will cast its shadow upon it. It’s going to occur all over North America and will be visible by every person in the continental United States. About 200 million people will be within a day’s drive of the path of totality, which conveniently passes over Nashville.

The actual path of totality is about 70 miles wide. If you’re not in the middle of that path, you won’t see a total eclipse. Nashville will experience about two minutes of totality, which will allow people to see Mercury, Venus and Mars, plus lots of constellations, including Gemini and the Big Dipper. 

Roberts urged safety during eclipse viewing. 

“It’s always dangerous to look at the sun,” he said. “Make sure you have specially made and certified eclipse glasses or welders’ glasses. Don’t try to look at the eclipse through a telescope or binoculars, even with eclipse glasses on – it’s also very dangerous! Be sure to use a sun filter.” 

“There’s no better way to get your students excited about astronomy or science than this eclipse,” Roberts said. “As you stand outside in the middle of the day, around 1:30 p.m. on August 21, the sky will get dark, you’ll see the stars, birds will start roosting, animals will respond as if it’s nighttime, flowers will close up.”

For more resources, please visit the Dyer Observatory at Vanderbilt University and NASA websites: dyer.vanderbilt.edu and eclipse2017.nasa.gov.

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