If you haven’t heard, a total solar eclipse will be visible from North America on August 21st. Ripley’s Gatlinburg and Myrtle Beach locations fall along the path of totality, meaning they will be some of the most optimal places to view the eclipse.
While eclipses happen fairly often, the United States won’t see another total solar eclipse until 2024—a long time to wait for an event that lasts only a few minutes! The longest predicted viewing period for the moon’s transit in front of the sun this time is just two minutes and 40 seconds.
Cheating the Time Limit
According to mathematical astronomy, the longest total solar eclipse can be viewed from the ground is a little over 7 minutes. One eclipse chaser wanted more.
Donald Liebenberg is a veteran eclipse-chaser, part of a subculture that travels around the world to follow and view eclipses whenever visible. Having seen 26 eclipses in his lifetime, you’d think he might be bored by now, but David attests that each and every eclipse is special—one journey, in particular, was truly unbelievable…
In June of 1973, an eclipse was scheduled to pass over North Africa. This time, David and a team of astronomers found a way to view the eclipse for an unprecedented 74 minutes! That’s over 10 times longer than science, theoretically, will allow!
The team enlisted the help of France’s prototype Concorde jet program to fly at supersonic speeds, following the total eclipse as it moved over the earth. Special holes had to be cut into the top of the jet for observation. Everything had to work perfectly—they only had one chance to get it right. Cruising at an altitude of 60,000 feet and traveling over twice the speed of sound, the mission was a success, and the whole crew walked away with the ability to say they had seen an eclipse longer than anyone else in the world!
Because eclipses happen only every several years, and—when they do happen—it is only for a few moments, scientists and eclipse enthusiasts scramble to make the most of these rare and awe-inspiring events. Greatly important to scientific study, the ability to see the sun’s wispy atmosphere, known as the corona, combined with a rare opportunity to observe stars during the day, has been a pivotal part in proving many scientific theories.
Eclipses aren’t just for scientists. Modern eclipse viewers have described the eclipse with an almost primordial reverence. Something about the sky going black and the disturbance of the steadfast sun drives not just people to look up in awe, or even break out in hoots and hollers, but also is accompanied by a stillness in the animal kingdom, as birds return to their nests, and mammals grow confused at the early nightfall.
This blotting out of the sun was seen as dangerous and a terrible omen by many ancient cultures. Chinese folklore tells the tale of a dog someday eating the sun, spurring the tradition to beat pots and pans at the sky and firing cannons to “scare the dog off” during eclipses. Many other cultures mirror this mythology with other creatures thought to be consuming the sun during an eclipse.
Remember, you can make your eclipse viewing experience extra special by visiting a Ripley’s Gatlinburg or Myrtle Beach locations. Both locations will be offering a FREE pair of glasses for viewing the eclipse with each ticket purchase and will be offering limited edition shirts to commemorate the event. If you can’t make it, stay tuned to our Snapchat where we’ll be providing LIVE coverage of the solar eclipse!