Southeast Tennessee guide to the total solar eclipse [photos]

Residents and visitors throughout the state of Tennessee will have a chance to see the solar eclipse on Aug. 21.

Tracking the solar eclipse

From west to east, the following gives the estimated time the total solar eclipse will begin and the duration of totality in specific locations in Southeast Tennessee.Location, Duration, When it BeginsSparta: 2 minutes, 39 seconds 1:30:03.9 CDTSpencer: 2 minutes 26 seconds 1:30:27.7 CDTFall Creek Falls: 2 minutes, 39 seconds 1:30:50.3 CDTPikeville: 2 minutes, 25 seconds 1:31:12.7 CDTSpring City: 2 minutes, 39 seconds 2:31:38.4Dayton: 2 minutes, 21 seconds 2:31:45.5Graysville: 2 minutes, 8 seconds 2:31:47.8Dunlap: 42 seconds 2:31:59.1Decatur: 2 minutes, 34 seconds 2:32:04.6Niota: 2 minutes, 38 seconds 2:32:31.9Sweetwater: 2 minutes, 37 seconds 2:32:35.6Athens: 2 minutes, 35 seconds 2:32:34.1Madisonville: 2 minutes, 38 seconds 2:32:53.1Etowah: 2 minutes, 28 seconds 2:32:56.1Vonore: 2 minutes, 31 seconds 2:33:06.6Cleveland: 1 minute, 3 seconds 2:33:09.7Benton: 1 minute, 51 seconds 2:33:11.9Tellico Plains: 2 minutes, 37 seconds 2:33:15.7Ocoee: 1 minute, 22 seconds 2:33:22.5Copperhill: 1 minute, 38 seconds 2:34:10.4Murphy, N.C.: 2 minutes, 27 seconds 2:34:16.4Clingman’s Dome: 1 minute, 26 seconds 2:35:12.1Source: 2006-2017 Xavier M. Jubier’s 2017 total solar eclipse Google map

Millions of Americans will look to the sky on Aug. 21 and experience a celestial phenomenon that could mark their lives forever.

That afternoon a large swath of the U.S., including portions of Tennessee, will momentarily plunge into darkness as the enormous orb that's in the sky during the day is blotted out by the one that's usually seen up there at night.

"Many people have seen a partial eclipse of the sun, but it's nothing like a total eclipse of the sun," said Mark Littmann, University of Tennessee solar eclipse expert and author. "For an eclipse of the sun, 99 percent (totality) is a failing grade."

Littmann, who witnessed total solar eclipses around the globe in 1979, 1991, 1994, 1998 and 1999, said there are at least two eclipses - usually partial - every year. In 2018 there will be three partial eclipses worldwide, but none in the U.S.

The last total eclipse in the U.S. was in 1979. If you sit in Chattanooga and wait for one to pass overhead, pack a meal or two - it could be several hundred years until the next one, Littmann said.

"That's a long time for a land mass as big as ours to go without one," he said.


At UT in Knoxville, the eclipse will be at 99.9 percent of totality. That's about the same degree of totality as people will see in Chattanooga, where it will be about 99.5 percent.

But "that's not even close," UT lecturer and astronomy coordinator Sean Lindsay said. "This should be at the top of everyone's bucket list because it's like you get ripped from reality and thrown into some dream world."

In what's widely dubbed as the "Great American Eclipse," the moon's shadow will pass through 11 states and clip three more along a path that enters the U.S. in Oregon and exits from South Carolina.

An estimated 12 million people live in the path of totality and millions more will stream into the shadow's path to see it. The Great American Eclipse begins and ends as a partial eclipse over a period of about 90 minutes, but it's the minutes in the middle - totality - that have stunned mankind for millennia.

The real show comes when the moon's disc covers 100 percent of the sun's, leaving only the corona - the sun's outer atmosphere - blazing out into space as stars appear in the daytime sky. Because the sun's diameter is 400 times that of the moon, while the moon is 400 times closer to us than the sun, the discs match perfectly, a celestial rarity unequaled in our solar system.

Experts say no camera can truly capture what the naked human eye will see at totality.

Total eclipse information

2,410 mph: Speed of the moon's shadow when it enters the U.S. in Oregon 1,500 mph: Approximate speed the moon's shadow will move in Tennessee 1,504 mph: Speed of the moon's shadow when it leaves the United States in South Carolina 70 miles: Width of the path of totality in U.S. 190 miles: Lenth of the path of totality in Tennessee Aug. 7, 1869: The last time a total solar eclipse was visible in Tennessee Source: NASA,


Lindsay saw his first total eclipse on March 20, 2015, in Norway.

"I'm kind of shaking with excitement," he recalled from that icy day. "We go out there, we have all of the protective gear and we set up the camera and we're almost ready for the main event."

The partial eclipse - about 45 minutes before totality - was relatively uneventful until about 15 minutes before the moon slid over the sun.

"In the 15-ish minutes leading up to totality, all sorts of cool changes start happening," Lindsay said with excitement in his voice. "Now it's starting to get significantly darker, you start to feel the temperature dropping - where I was it dropped about 15 degrees Fahrenheit as totality set in."

The same drop is expected here.

Animals nearby, including humans, will start to act strange. It's not uncommon to see animals going through bedding routines; birds are confused, and nocturnal creatures emerge from their sleeping places, Lindsay and Littmann said.

With eclipse glasses in place, "you start to see these little bright beads of light on the very edge of the moon or the sun - they're one and the same at this point - these are called 'Baily's beads,'" Lindsay said. "This happens at the same time as another effect, what is called the 'diamond ring' effect, that creates a bright white circle. Then you have the disc of the moon sort of lined with a bright bead of white so it looks like a diamond ring."

And then the diamond is gone.

"That's the point you can take the eclipse glasses off," Lindsay said. "This is where you exit reality and get thrown into a dream world."

Total Solar Eclipse coverage

In moments it's nearly nighttime, or the darkest twilight, and stars and planets appear in the afternoon sky.

"You take your eclipse glasses off. You're now in totality and you look to where you know the sun should be, but all you see is this perfectly black disc," he said. "The sun appears to have gone black."

Around that black disc, the sun's corona begins to glow a soft white, sometimes reaching out into space and often revealing storms on the surface of the sun that spurt material out of its atmosphere.

"I don't think there's any way anyone can mentally prepare themselves for this. When it's happening, it feels like time stops," he said. "It definitely doesn't feel like reality anymore.

"Eclipses really are the most amazing natural phenomena that exists."

When totality occurs, Lindsay and Littmann said eclipse viewers can remove their eclipse glasses and look directly upon a spectacular celestial phenomenon for 2 1/2 minutes or more.


In Tennessee, a roughly 70-mile-wide, 190-mile-long path of totality will enter the state northwest of Nashville and sweep across Southeast Tennessee's Fall Creek Falls, Spring City, Pikeville, Sweetwater, Madisonville, Athens, Cleveland and Copperhill.

Crowds are expected to swarm the shadow's path as people from Chattanooga, Knoxville and Atlanta - and points farther away - take off Monday for the event.

In Hamilton County, the path of totality will quickly sweep across the northern edge of Soddy-Daisy, linger almost two minutes over Sale Creek, Bakewell and Birchwood, and skirt State Route 111 where it passes over Waldens Ridge to Sequatchie County.

The last total eclipse to pass over U.S. soil was in 1991 in Hawaii. The last one over the continental U.S., in 1979, shadowed a path across the northwestern states.

Nashville is in the path this time, but the last time a total solar eclipse passed over what now is called Nashville was in 1478 - 539 years ago - a bit beyond the 375-year average for most locations on the planet, Littmann said.

All of Tennessee outside the path of totality will get a very high degree of partial eclipse, he said. Watchers will still need protective eyewear.

"Get there hours early and settle in like it's a tailgate party," Littmann said. He also suggested people avoid getting too wrapped up in taking photographs or video of the event. Automate cameras, if possible, or be quick and deliberate and prepare way ahead.

"For all of us, don't spend a lot of time messing with cameras," he said. "Every second of totality is magical, and fighting with your photography when other people are doing it professionally is less important than you recording it with your soul, with your eyes and with your heart."


The Tennessee Department of Transportation has been warning motorists for weeks that traffic in some areas could be very heavy as millions across the U.S. head for the shadow's path.

TDOT says no one should stop or park on the sides of interstates but, instead, take an exit to get to a safe viewing area.

The shadow will cover almost every mile of Interstate 40 between Nashville and Knoxville, so traffic is likely to jam up on Eclipse Monday.

Some of the heaviest traffic in the nation will be on I-40 and I-75 in Southeast Tennessee, according a Google map created by "B. Crystal 2017," based on 2010 U.S. Census population density and interstate highway traffic patterns. Traffic could be heavy on other major arteries in the region, such as U.S. highways 27, 127, 11 and 411, the map shows.

Safety first

Until the eclipse reaches totality, special protective eye wear is absolutely necessary. It is usually common sense to avoid looking directly at the sun but it's also dangerous to look at it during a partial eclipse without eclipse glasses. The eclipse in Tennessee will be a partial eclipse for about 90 minutes except for the one to two minutes in the middle when the eclipse reaches totality. NASA makes the following recommendations: - Eclipse viewing glasses should have a certification designation ISO 12312-2 - Manufacturer's name and address should be clearly visible on the product. - Eclipse glasses older than three years or those with scratched or wrinkled lenses should not be used. - Do not use homemade filters or sunglasses (even dark ones). - If eye protection is unavailable, use a pinhole project, made by putting a small hole in a sheet of paper or cardboard to serve as the project and another sheet of paper or cardboard on the ground to serve as a projection screen. Source: NASA


Clouds or rain are possible, so Littmann and Lindsay suggest having a backup plan to get ahead - or behind - of any passing weather systems. Check the weather Thursday or Friday and choose options to the west and east of rain and clouds, if possible.

If there's widespread rain, the eclipse won't be as remarkable, but it will be dramatic and the darkness will be even deeper underneath the clouds, they said.

"It'll be darker than the darkest night for about two minutes," Lindsay said. "It'll still be very strange."

For those who plan to stay home - or at work - NASA will offer live video of the event.

"NASA will be live-streaming the eclipse so you might be able to watch it multiple times," Lindsay said.


Eclipse watchers across the nation will come together to see one of nature's most breathtaking events.

"Surround yourself with friends and family," said Lindsay, who is going to his mother-in-law's house in Maryville, Tenn., to watch. "It's wonderful to be able to talk about the experience of sharing it."

If all else fails and someone misses the whole thing, hang on; the next total solar eclipse will bisect the U.S. from south to north on April 8, 2024, starting in Texas, passing through the Northeast and exiting at Maine into New Brunswick, Canada.

Contact staff writer Ben Benton at or 423-757-6569.

Bound for the mountains?

Parts of the Cherokee National Forest in East Tennessee will be under the 70-mile-wide path of totality as it passes over the southern portion of the forest’s Tellico and Ocoee Ranger Districts at about 2:30 p.m. on Aug. 21.Forestry officials note that much of the Cherokee National Forest is remote and rugged, and high-clearance vehicles are recommended for many forest roads. Several locations outside of developed recreation areas may have environmental or road access concerns associated with them, federal officials said. Many of these locations have rough dirt or gravel roads leading to them with limited access, parking, crowd capacity, restricted traffic flow and no sanitation facilities or water. National forest visitors should expect many locations to be heavily visited and congested. Planning your visit ahead of time could help make it safer and more enjoyable.Use extreme caution when driving and parking, and pay close attention to other vehicles, pedestrians and bikers sharing the roads. Plan to arrive early at your destination so that you can park safely and legally.