“Apocalyptic… like the hand of God, reaching up and flicking off the light.”

That’s how Memphis planetarium director and astronomy enthusiast Dave Maness describes the experience of a total solar eclipse.

Cool? Or scary? Or both?

As most people may know by now, parts of North America will experience a total solar eclipse — a rare phenomenon for the continent — on Monday, April 8.

According to NASA, this map "illustrates the paths of the Moon’s shadow across the U.S. during the 2024 total solar eclipse. On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross North and Central America creating a path of totality."

According to NASA, this map “illustrates the paths of the Moon’s shadow across the U.S. during the 2024 total solar eclipse. On April 8, 2024, a total solar eclipse will cross North and Central America creating a path of totality.”

During a solar eclipse, the moon, in its orbit around the Earth, passes between the Earth and the sun. For 2 to 3 minutes during this process, an alignment will occur in which the moon appears to cover the disk of the sun entirely, blocking its light. This is the total solar eclipse. During this time, the moon will resemble a black disc haloed by a corona of light. (But don’t look at it, except through a pair of legitimate solar eclipse glasses, with black polymer lenses that block ultraviolet rays and sunlight that can be harmful to the naked eye.)

With the sun behind it, the moon will cast a shadow that crosses the surface of the Earth in what is referred to as a “path of totality.” The huge shadow of this total eclipse will pass through Mexico, the United States and Canada, but will miss West Tennessee by about 70 or so miles. Memphians instead will experience a partial eclipse.

The partial eclipse should be strange and impressive in its own right. Nevertheless, Maness, superintendent of the AutoZone Dome and Sharpe Planetarium at the Memphis Museum of Science and History, plans to drive to Arkansas, to be in place for the totality.

Maness says he has been “hooked” on the stargazing ever since his Boy Scout older brother poked finger-holes in the upstate New York snow to illustrate the dimensions of the Big Dipper. He turned his fascination into a career, and worked at planetariums in Pittsburgh and Newport News, Virginia, before coming to Memphis.

Former president of the Southeastern Planetarium Association, Maness experienced his first totality in Kentucky in 2017, the last time a total solar eclipse crossed North America. (The next total eclipse will not reach the continental United States until 2044). He said he understands why people in ancient times thought eclipses portended something supernatural and cataclysmic.

“The last few moments of the sun’s light getting covered, it had the feel of an apocalyptic event,” said Maness, 68. “If you happen to be religious, it’s kind of like the hand of God reaching up and flicking off the light — turning off the light of the sun. And that raises goosebumps.

“I do recommend that people try to experience it,” he said.

What time is the solar eclipse in Memphis?

In the United States, the path of totality crosses the continent at a slant, like a beauty pageant sash, as it travels into Texas and then through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine.

For Memphians, one of the closest significant towns that will be in the path of the totality is Jonesboro, Arkansas, about 70 miles to the northwest.

The eclipse will begin in Jonesboro at precisely 12:37 p.m. and 47 seconds, according to astronomers. The partial eclipse will become a total eclipse at 1:55 p.m. and 39 seconds, with “totality” ending under three minutes later, at 1:57 and 58 seconds. The partial eclipse continues until 3:14 p.m. and 46 seconds, when the moon moves away and the sun again becomes entirely visible.

The eclipse as visible in Memphis will cover more or less the same time frame as it does in Jonesboro, off by just several seconds. The major distinction, of course, is that Memphis will not experience the totality.

“A lot of people say close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and that’s true with eclipses,” Maness said. “There’s big, big difference between a nearly total eclipse and a total eclipse.”

That is why towns in the path of totality are expecting a large influx of tourists and “eclipse chasers.” According to the Austin Chronicle, more than 1 million visitors will arrive in the city for the total eclipse.

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What can Memphis expect during the eclipse?

From the viewpoint of a person in Memphis, about 97% of the sun will be obscured by the moon during the eclipse, Maness said. But even 2% to 3% of the sun casts a good deal of light.

“The sky will seem dim and the brightness will be dim, but you will see shadows on the ground,” Maness said.

“The shadows will become very crisp and sharp. You should especially notice the shadows on the ground. Where the light is filtered through the trees, you will see, multiplied, many crescents on the ground,” reproducing the crescent shape of the sun during the partial eclipse.

The horizon may appear to have “an orangish glow.” The planet Venus likely will be visible, “brilliant, with a silvery light.”

Of course, all this viewing depends on weather conditions. Cloudy skies can ruin eclipses as well as picnics.

Where can you get solar eclipse glasses in Memphis?

Dimness of light notwithstanding, the sun remains dangerous to the eye. As most people know, nobody should look directly at an eclipse without a pair of “solar eclipse glasses.” Regular sunglasses are no substitute, as they do not provide adequate eye protection. (Also, do not look at the eclipse through binoculars or a telescope, unless the instrument’s lens is protected by an “eclipse” lens.)

American Paper Optics in Bartlett has made millions of pairs of solar eclipse glasses.American Paper Optics in Bartlett has made millions of pairs of solar eclipse glasses.

American Paper Optics in Bartlett has made millions of pairs of solar eclipse glasses.

Many of the tens of millions of pairs of eclipse glasses that will be sold and distributed before April 8 were manufactured by Bartlett-based American Paper Optics, the leading producer of eclipse and 3D glasses. Retailers selling solar eclipse glasses include Walmart, Lowe’s, Target and Amazon, and glasses may be purchased at some Memphis museums and other attractions.

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But free glasses also are available. Through April 8, while supplies last, free solar eclipse viewing glasses will be available at all Memphis Public Libraries branches.

What solar eclipse viewing parties are planned in Memphis?

At least five public events related to the eclipse are scheduled for Memphis.

  • The Museum of Science and History (which includes the Pink Palace) at 3050 Central gets a jump on the cosmological competition with two days of pre-eclipse prep during its “Eclipse Preview Weekend” on April 6 and 7. (The museum is closed April 8, the day of the actual eclipse.) Throughout the two days, staffers with the museum will be on hand, to answer eclipse questions, preview the eclipse in the Sharpe Planetarium, and help visitors make safe eclipse viewers from cereal boxes; “bracket toys,” to demonstrate the positions of the moon, Earth and sun in space; and “moon cookies,” to model the lunar phases. Glasses and other eclipse paraphernalia will be on sale in the gift shop.

  • The Memphis Brooks Museum of Art and the Overton Park Conservancy win the “clever name” award for their “Total Eclipse of the Park,” a public watch party set for 12:30-3 p.m. April 8 on the museum plaza and greensward of Overton Park. Free eclipse glasses will be handed out, and lunch will be available from the museum restaurant, Feast & Graze.

  • The Memphis Botanic Garden at 759 Cherry Road is inviting Memphians to bring a blanket and a picnic basket and hang out among the flowers and plants during an event it has dubbed the “Solar Eclipse Drop-In,” which will run from about 1-3 p.m. April 8. Children will be able to plant a moonflower or sunflower to take home. Viewing glasses will be on sale in the gift shop. The event is free with garden admission.

  • Putting a cosmic spin on the Downtown hotel’s long-running rooftop party tradition, a “Solar Eclipse Watch Party” will take place on the roof of The Peabody from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 8. A deejay will contribute musical “celestial vibes,” and concessions, snacks and beverages (alcoholic and non-alcoholic alike) will be available for purchase. Admission is $20 for adults, $10 for kids, ages 5-12.

  • After the eclipse, at 4 p.m. April 8, the Memphis Public Libraries’ Randolph branch at 3752 Given will host eclipse-related craft activities for children ages 6-12.

For more eclipse information, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website at noaa.gov, or the NASA website at science.nasa.gov/eclipses.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Solar eclipse: Everything to know if you live in Memphis, Tennessee

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