With the first good opportunity in more than 40 years for area residents to see a total solar eclipse, the Dawson County Schools Board of Education last week voted to make Aug. 21 an early release day.
“We decided to make that change due to the timing of the eclipse,” Gibbs said. “Our students would be on the bus and miss an opportunity to witness it. We plan to provide viewing information and a pair of glasses for each student.”
Gainesville and Hall County school systems as well as Forsyth County schools will keep students an extra hour to let students experience the eclipse at school.
University of North Georgia officials are offering an opportunity to help prepare local residents for the event by hosting a program for the general public on the day before the eclipse, from 1-4 p.m. Aug. 20.
The event will be held at the George E. Coleman Sr. Planetarium on the school’s Dahlonega campus.
A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the earth and sun, casts its shadow on the earth and blocks the view of the sun from the earth.
Lesley Simanton-Coogan, director of the planetarium, said the Aug. 20 event doesn’t require registration.
Simanton-Coogan said those attending the free event will have the opportunity to hear UNG professors talk about the eclipse, see movies about the sun in the planetarium and even look at the sun through a telescope. There will also be specialized glasses given to those attending that will allow them to safely look directly at the sun during the eclipse the next day.
Simanton-Coogan said the school has about 700 of the glasses for the public event.
“The eclipse, that moment of totality, if people want to catch that, it’s very brief, so we wanted people to be prepared for it,” she said.
The actual eclipse is expected to be visible in Northeast Georgia on Aug. 21 starting about 1 p.m. with the best view coming in about a 2-minute window at 2:30 p.m., according to Simanton-Coogan.
A complete, 100 percent total solar eclipse will most likely be an hour north and east of Dahlonega, in places like Helen, Blairsville and the Greenville, S.C., area.
“In the path of totality, what people will see is the sun will be completely covered and it will actually get fully dark, the stars and the planets will come out,” she said. “You can actually see the corona of the sun, which is the area around the sun with materials streaming off it.”
Dahlonega will see about 99 percent of a total eclipse of the sun, and the Gainesville-Hall County area will likely see about 98-99 percent of a total solar eclipse, according to Simanton-Coogan.
“It’ll get a little darker out,” she said, referring to what Hall County and other area residents will likely see. “It will kind of look like a gloomy day; shadows might start to look kind of weird on the ground. If you have proper eye protection, you can look at the eclipse and see that the sun will be mostly covered.”
Specialized glasses for the eclipse are the best way to protect one’s eyes when looking directly at the sun during an eclipse.
“Even with 99 percent of the sun covered, it’s still 10,000 times brighter than if 100 percent is covered,” Simanton-Coogan said. “It mostly because the sun is just so bright. There is less light because the sun is partially being blocked, but there’s still enough light to damage your eyes.
“The danger with eclipses is that people are trying to look at the sun, people are trying to stare at it,” she added. “A lot of times you don’t realize if your eyes are getting damaged because the retinas on the back of your eyes don’t actually have pain receptors, so your retinas can be burning and you won’t know it.”
Seeing a solar eclipse is rare for most people, according to Simanton-Coogan. The last time a solar eclipse came close to Northeast Georgia was in March 1970, when the 100 percent view came up the East Coast of the United States, according to a NASA website.
“The reason they are so rare and hard to see is basically the moon is smaller than the earth, so its shadow is very small on the earth,” she said. “So there’s only really small areas of the Earth that get to see these total eclipses.
“The big deal is that it’s passing right across the U.S.,” she added. “A lot of solar eclipses end up happening over the ocean because most of the earth is ocean. There’s actually people who go out chasing them. They’ll take cruise ships or fly to exotic locations to chase around to see these eclipses. Partial eclipses are a little more common, so a lot of people see partial eclipses. I saw a partial eclipse when I was a kid.”