East Tennessee already preparing for once-in-a-lifetime solar eclipse that will be seen next August

Source NASAThe "path of totality," or shadow of total darkness as the moon blocks the sun on Aug. 21 2017.
photo Source NASAThe "path of totality," or shadow of total darkness as the moon blocks the sun on Aug. 21 2017.
photo *Greatest eclipse is the instant when the axis of the moon's shadow passes closest to the center of the Earth

Eclipse facts

› Last total solar eclipse in continental United States: 1979› Last time the “path of totality” crossed the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic: June 8, 1918, when a total eclipse crossed the United States from Washington State to Florida.› Totality visited the United States in 1905, 1918, 1932, 1945, 1963, 1970, 1972, 1979 and 1991 (in Hawaii)Source: www.greatamericaneclipse.com

More Info

Sun will be blocked briefly during raresolar eclipse nextAugustApproximately 2:30 EDTDuration of the Aug. 21, 2017, total eclipse in the Chattanooga area:› Athens: two minutes, 35 seconds› Benton: one minute, 51 seconds› Cleveland: one minute, three seconds› Dayton: two minutes, 21 seconds› Ducktown: one minute, 48 seconds› Dunlap: 42 seconds› Etowah: two minutes, 28 seconds› McMinnville: one minute, 49 secondsSource: www.eclipse2017.org

Spring City, Tenn., will plunge into darkness for two minutes and 39 seconds on the afternoon of Aug. 21, 2017, when the moon blots out the sun except for its blazing corona during a total solar eclipse that's been dubbed "The Great American Eclipse" since its path will sweep across 11 states from Oregon to South Carolina.

The Rhea County town of some 2,000 residents on Highway 27 should see an influx of onlookers that Monday afternoon, since Spring City is one of a number of Chattanooga- area communities that fall inside what astronomers call "the path of totality," or total eclipse, a roughly 70-mile-wide path that will skirt both Chattanooga and Knoxville (which only will see partial eclipses).

"We weren't planning anything - but I think it's about time we started," said Spring City Mayor Billy Ray Patton, who hadn't heard of the eclipse. "This is a great opportunity for the town of Spring City. We're always trying to do something to get people to come downtown."

The Great American Eclipse is being touted as a once-in-a-lifetime event of awe-inspiring beauty that's within a day's drive of nearly every U.S. resident. And communities around Tennessee already have begun to gear up for an influx of tourists - some of whom have made hotel reservations almost a year in advance.

"We are totally on it. We want to have an eclipse festival that day," said Jessica Morgan, the city recorder for Sweetwater, Tenn., which will see the moon blot out the sun for 2 minutes and 37 seconds. "We're kind of the midpoint between Chattanooga and Knoxville, so we're hoping to draw from both sides."

Eclipse followers already have made reservations at Sweetwater-area places of lodging. For example, the Days Inn Sweetwater has rooms booked for Aug. 21, 2017 - which is very unusual this far out, said Sima Patel, a front desk employee.

"We're not full - yet," Patel said.

A big eclipse celebration is planned in Gallatin, Tenn., a city of about 33,000 people 30 miles northeast of Nashville that will experience 2 minutes and 40 seconds of total eclipse.

The Gallatin TN Eclipse Encounter will be held in Triple Creek Park in Sumner County. T-shirts, posters and other merchandise already have been made for the big day. At least one area Gallatin-area hotel is sold out already, said Barry Young, executive director of the Sumner County Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"The economic impact is going to be tremendous," Young said, citing lodging, gas and food as items that eclipse viewers will spend money on. "We're very excited about that."

Hardcore eclipse-followers closely watch the weather, and will move to another location if cloudy conditions threaten their first viewing spot.

Young first learned of the eclipse two years ago, when he got a call from an Arizona company that specializes in arranging solar eclipse tours around the world.

"We do have a group coming from Japan," Young said. "They've come here to look the place over."

Tourists also are scheduled to come to Gallatin, he said, from such places as the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Nashville, which will spend 1 minute and 55 seconds in the path of totality, will be the largest U.S. city to experience the total eclipse.

"Nashville's going to see the eclipse, too, but not as long as we are," Young said.

Gov. Bill Haslam mentioned the Great American Eclipse during his Sept. 23 speech at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the 2016 Tennessee Governor's Conference on Hospitality and Tourism.

"We have folks coming from all over the world," Haslam said.

Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at tomarzu@timesfreepress.com or www.facebook.com/MeetsForBusiness or on Twitter @meetforbusiness or 423-757-6651.