Science Fans Try To Spark Enthusiasm In Nashville For This Summer’s Solar Eclipse

May 22, 2017

Astronomy enthusiasts across the country are already planning out where they’ll be on Aug. 21, when a total solar eclipse will make a path across North America.

As the largest city on that path, Nashville is expecting a boost in tourism from visitors excited about the eclipse. But the Adventure Science Center is also trying to make sure people who live here understand the importance of the celestial occasion, too.

The center has been preparing for this two-minute event for three years: It’s throwing a days-long festival beforehand and has been hosting special eclipse days once a month, where volunteers set up booths around the planetarium with diagrams and models.

On Saturday morning, Linda Williamson brought her daughter Isabell to learn about it.

“We’re here to do a little bit of science research to explain to my upcoming fifth-grader about what’s going to happen and why that’s going to happen," Linda said. Then, turning to Isabell: “Do you know why there’s going to be an eclipse?”

“Because of the moon and sun and the earth," Isabell replied. 

Mark Bender, who travels around the world to see eclipses, demonstrates how people can take photos of the sun on their iPhones, with the help of a special app.
Credit Emily Siner / WPLN

Specifically, the moon will block the sun and cast a shadow on the earth. Mark Bender, a documentary filmmaker who spoke at the Adventure Science Center last week, describes witnessing one as a transformative — even spiritual — experience.

"It looks like a black hole, and around that is this milky white imminence coming off. It's kind of pale, it's kind of ephemeral, and you feel like it's moving. You feel like it's alive, this thing up there," he said. "And then it's gone."

Bender is a self-described “eclipse chaser” who’s traveled to remote areas of Africa, Australia and close to the North Pole to catch rare glimpses. He relishes the adventure that it usually takes to see one, and exotic settings add to the beauty, he said — but he envies people who live in Nashville, who won’t have to travel at all for this one.

"There's going to be a guy back here cleaning a room when he should be outside experiencing this eclipse," he said, "which is one of the reasons I've come here, to get everybody in this town to just walk outside for five minutes and experience this grand, celestial gift."

Hardcore eclipse fans might not end up in Nashville on the day of the event, Bender said: Many of his friends are heading for parts of Oregon where the skies are more dependably cloudless. He might stake out Hopkinsville, Ky., where the total eclipse will last almost a full minute longer than in Nashville.