Jonesborough celebrates eclipse with a dash of science

Jessica Fuller • Aug 21, 2017 at 11:09 PM

Hundreds of people turned their attention skyward Monday afternoon in downtown Jonesborough, joining millions of Americans for the event of a lifetime.

Those tuning in in the Tri-Cities didn’t quite get to see the sun completely covered by the moon, but the 97 percent totality was enough to drive people out and about to experience the phenomenon, and for hundreds that was Jonesborough’s Solar Eclipse Block Party. 

Attendants could enjoy an eclipse-themed treat, create a memento of the day or try out one of the homemade eclipse boxes. Dozens stood in line for one last chance at eclipse glasses, where Main Street Coordinator Melinda Copp said the rush for glasses changed the town’s original plan of just giving out glasses the day of the event. 

“We figured so many people would come to this, and (the line for glasses) would be insane, so we decided to sell some beforehand,” she said. 

The town sold 2,500 pairs of eclipse glasses in just a few hours, Copp said, and some people camped outside the Visitor’s Center for about four hours the day the town started selling them. The final 250 pairs of glasses were handed out to the first people in line on Monday. Then all that was left to do was wait for the eclipse — and learn a little bit about the science behind it. 

The town welcomed astrophysicist and East Tennessee State University professor Richard Ignace to help shine some light on the science behind eclipses. He took enthusiastic volunteers from the audience to demonstrate just what happens, and why eclipses only happen about two times per year. 

The moon orbits around the earth and the earth orbits around the sun, Ignace explained, but the moon’s shadow isn’t always perfectly aimed for a solar eclipse when the moon comes between the earth and sun. 

“(The orbits) are tilted a little bit, so sometimes the moon’s shadow overshoots the earth or undershoots it,” he said. “The shadow is always there, but it doesn’t always strike the earth.” 

Total eclipses are even more rare. On Monday, the moon’s shadow created a path of totality of about 100 miles wide that stretched across the United States for the first time in decades. The path of totality just scraped by the Tri-Cities this time around, but Ignace says those willing to travel have another chance to catch a total solar eclipse in 2024. 

“It’s great fun to be able to do that and to be able to share the passion of astronomy. What’s so wonderful about exploring the universe is we are living in such an interesting time where the discoveries are tumbling out every year.”

Email Jessica Fuller at jfuller@johnsoncitypress.com. Follow Jessica on Twitter @fullerjf91. Like her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/jfullerJCP.


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