Eclipse Graphic

One of nature's rarest phenomena -- a celestial event that few experience -- is a little more than a day away.

On Monday, Aug. 21, T&D Region residents will see the sun disappear behind the moon, turning daylight into twilight, causing the temperature to drop and revealing massive streamers of light streaking through the sky around the silhouette of the moon.

The total solar eclipse will engulf the region for about 2 minutes and 22 seconds. The partial phase of the eclipse is expected to begin around 1:14 p.m., with totality starting at 2:43 p.m., according to eclipse2017.org, a website promoting the event.

So what happens when the total solar eclipse occurs?

Weather

National Weather Service Meteorologist Leonard Vaughan said temperatures typically drop an average of 3 to 5 degrees during a total eclipse. But during a 2001 total solar eclipse in Africa, the temperature dropped about 20 degrees.

Scientists also measured the temperature change during the 2015 total solar eclipse, which took place in Svalbard, an island in the northern Norwegian archipelago. The temperature dropped about 15 degrees Fahrenheit during that total solar eclipse.

"I think we will see a pretty good drop because it is the summertime," he said. "I think if it was in the wintertime, there would not be much of a drop."

"That drop will start ... as it gets a little darker, and as we get less sunshine, you will feel a gradual cool down," Vaughan said.

Wind direction and air pressure changes may also occur because of the drop in temperature.

"There will be some meteorological things that occur, especially in the sweet spot with complete darkness," Vaughan said. "As we come out of it, it will warm back up. It will be a freaky day and especially interesting for all the science people out there."

Planets and stars

Beyond the meteorological changes, those experiencing the eclipse can also expect some other rare opportunities.

South Carolina State University Professor of Physics Dr. Don Walter said people in Orangeburg will begin to see the partial phase of the eclipse around 1:14 p.m.

"At that point, the moon’s disk begins to cover the sun’s disk from our vantage point," Walter said. "A person will not notice any change at that point unless they are wearing special eclipse-safe glasses (not sun glasses) and looking at the sun."

Walter said individuals at this point will see a small “bite” or rounded edge of the sun disappear.

"The size of this blocked region of the sun will grow in size for the next hour and a half until it completely covers the sun, and the total phase of the eclipse begins at 2:43 p.m. and will last for about 2 minutes and 20 seconds," he said.

Walter said from about 1:14 p.m. to about 2:30 p.m., there will not be any noticeable change in the brightness of the day.

Around 2:30 p.m., subtle changes will occur, he said. "These changes will become more noticeable and take place at a faster pace the closer the time gets to totality at 2:43 p.m."

Walter said shadows will become sharper during this time. This means it will be possible to see individual hairs on your head in your shadow, he said.

"The surroundings may take on an unusual faint change in color some describe as steely-blue," he said.

Walter said it is important for all to be wearing eclipse safety glasses if they are going to be looking at the sun during the partial portion of the eclipse. Individuals wearing the glasses will see some interesting things, he said.

"Around 2:35 p.m. or slightly later, a person may be able to see the planet Venus even though totality has not begun," he said. "To see Venus, you should remove your solar glasses and block the sun with your left hand. Extend your right arm out as far as it will go and clench your fist."

"Your clenched fist at arm’s length measures about 10 degrees on the sky," he said. "Venus will be about 30 degrees to the west (to the right of the sun) at about the 2 o’clock position if you use the sun as the center of the clock."

Walter said about 30 seconds before totality, Mars may be visible about 10 degrees to the west of the sun at the 2 o’clock position.

"If you are looking through eclipse-safe glasses at the sun during the last few seconds before totality, you may see a string of bright lights on the edge of the sun called Bailey’s Beads and just before totality, a single bright bead will flash and create what is called the Diamond Ring effect," he said. "These are due to sunlight shining through valleys on the moon even through almost all of the rest of the sunlight is blocked."

During totality, Walter said the eclipse glasses can come off. A bright star, Regulus, will be visible in the constellation of Leo the Lion. Regulus will be very close and just to the left of the sun, he said.

The planet Mercury may also be visible about 20 degrees to the east (left) of the sun at the 5 o’clock position, Walter noted.

"Also, Jupiter will be visible about 50 degrees to the east of the sun at the 4 o’clock position, and just below it you might see the bright star Spica in the constellation of Virgo," he said. "Another bright star, Procyon, may be visible about 20 degrees below Venus."

The sun will look like a doughnut, with the dark hole in the center being the moon blocking the sun, he said.

"The outer part of the doughnut will be the corona, which is the outer part of the sun’s atmosphere and is only visible during totality," he said. "So seeing the corona during totality is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Walter also noted that during totality, the sky and surroundings will get about as dark as at twilight.

"It will not get as dark as during the middle of the night," he said.

"There are several things you can observe that do not require eclipse glasses," Walter said. "You can look under a tree during any part of the partial phase and see many little suns in the partial phase projected on the ground."

"This is caused by the leaves in the tree overlapping to make pinhole projections on the ground," he said. "There are many ways to make a pinhole projector. One easy way is to take your two hands and spread the fingers open a little and lay one hand over the other, creating a waffle-like pattern with your fingers. This will create pinhole images of the partially eclipsed sun on the ground."

The end of the second partial phase will be about 4:07 p.m., Walter said.

About three minutes before totality begins, the horizon will begin darkening toward the west as the shadow approaches.

"About one minute before totality, you may be able to see shadow bands moving across the ground," he said. "These will be alternating dark and bright bands moving quickly, and they will fade."

Of course, if it's cloudy, the sky will be dark and people will not be able to see or experience the events he described, Walter said.

Wildlife

Walter says the change in lighting will most likely confuse animals, which will behave as if night has arrived early.

"Animal behavior is something else to watch during the final moments before 2:43 p.m.," he said. "Birds may come to roost, dogs may bark or howl, chickens and other animals may run around confused and making noise and crickets and other insects may begin to chirp."

Even certain plants may furl or unfurl, just as they regularly do as darkness falls, he said.

The eclipse may also confuse livestock.

"Most of the time with an eclipse, cattle and other livestock will respond like they would at dusk or dark on a regular day," Clemson Extension Associate Scott Sell said. "So basically, it just confuses them into thinking night is coming and that then day is breaking. Look for them to gather and do what they would normally do as the sun sets."

Walter says pets -- such as dogs and cats -- typically do not look at the sun and would not be expected to do so during the brief interval of the eclipse.

"People should not be concerned about their pets," he said. "What happens is the last few minutes before the eclipse dogs will start barking and howling. Animals in general will be confused by the dimming light and the change in the color of the surroundings."

Walter said it might be a good idea for pet owners to keep their animals inside solely for the sake of ensuring "they don't run off afraid."

Total solar eclipse -- a rarity

The last time Orangeburg experienced totality was the March 7, 1970, solar eclipse. During that event, Orangeburg was at the edge of the path and experienced darkness that lasted only a short while.

This time around, Orangeburg is directly in the path of totality. About 14 states will experience the eclipse.

Experts say the next time South Carolina will experience an eclipse will be in 2052, and it will be experienced primarily in the Lowcountry. The next time a good portion of the state will see an eclipse will be in 2078.

Contact the writer: gzaleski@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5551. Follow on Twitter @ZaleskiTD.

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Business Reporter

Gene Zaleski is a reporter/staff writer with The Times and Democrat.

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