Farragut to see its first total eclipse in centuries

The significance in distance from downtown Knoxville to Town of Farragut, roughly 15 miles, will be monumental — like night and day, literally — Monday afternoon, Aug. 21.

That’s when the first total solar eclipse in the continental United States since 1979, and the first in East Tennessee since at least the 18th century, streaks across a roughly 70-mile east-to-west sliver

of East Tennessee. Total eclipse in Farragut begins at 2:33 p.m.

While observers in downtown Knoxville will only see a partial eclipse, residents in Farragut will get about 1 minute and 25 seconds of a total eclipse — which is not expected to happen again in Town for another 350 years — said Dr. Mark Littmann, a former astronomy professor and current professor of journalism and electronic media at The University of Tennessee.

“In Farragut you get a tiny bit of totality,” added Littmann, author of “The Great American Eclipses of 2017 and 2024” who is coming to Town to discuss the total eclipse starting at 6 p.m., Wednesday, July 12, in Farragut Town Hall.

“When the moon begins to edge itself across the face of the sun [in Farragut] is 1:04 in the afternoon. … It’s the last 15 minutes before it becomes total when the world changes rather rapidly. … The animals begin to be aware of it. You begin to see the building of the thunderstorm-like darkness in the west.

“The last of the partial eclipse [in Town] is 3:59 [p.m.].”

In comparison, “If you stay in downtown Knoxville you get to see a 99 percent partial eclipse … but it’s all the difference in the world between a partial eclipse and total eclipse,” he said, comparing observers of a partial eclipse to those attending a musical event where “you go to the theater and stand in the lobby. … You sense the excitement but you miss the main event. … There is still some of the bright sunlight” with a partial eclipse.

A total eclipse isn’t quite as dark as nighttime darkness, Littmann said, “but it gets dark enough to where you can see four planets and a few stars near the sun.”

Among the features of a total eclipse, “You’ve got all the colors of twilight around the horizon, 360 degrees all the way around you,” said Littmann, who holds the Julia G. and Alfred G. Hill Chair of Excellence in Science, Technology and Medical Writing. “Very peculiar circumstance.”

Moreover, “Its ability to affect people: inspire them, terrify them, even, and change their lives. A total eclipse will do that,” he said. “… The changing of colors, the sharpening of shadows, how the animals behave. The birds are completely dumbfounded, not knowing what to do. …”

Having observed five total eclipses, the last of which was 1999 in southeastern Turkey, Littmann said many people only think they’ve seen a total eclipse.

If someone comments, “’Oh, it was interesting, it was nice.’ You know they haven’t seen it because it is not just ‘nice,’ it is not just ‘interesting,’ it is way beyond that,” Littmann said.

In fact, “When the sun actually goes into total eclipse, you hear people gasp; and almost never does anybody say anything — they’re just too overwhelmed,” Littmann said. “And then, when the sun emerges from totality, when the diamond ring [effect] appears and the crescent of the sun begins to emerge again and daylight is returning, people start screaming and shouting, and they start applauding. The other thing they do is they cry.

“And the first thing they say is, ‘When is the next one?” added Littmann, who is author of a handful of solar eclipse books.

While stressing the need for eye safety whenever at least part of the sun is visible — Goggling Internet sites or optical outlets to buy “eclipse glasses” for less than $5 — Littmann said the nation’s best place, in terms of length, to observe the total eclipse “is near Carbondale, Illinois: 2 minutes, 40 seconds.”

“The other part of this situation is where is the weather going to be the best,” added the UT professor. “In August there aren’t many frontal systems that are crossing the country at that time. The worst of the thunderstorm season tends to have passed.”

Farragut is on the northern side of the total eclipse path. “A swath goes all the way across the country, 2,500 miles, but its only about 70 miles wide,” Littmann said.

“… You want to move south to southwest” in the Knoxville metro area to see more than twice as much total eclipse as will be viewed in Farragut, he added.

“If you want to see more of the eclipse [locally] you’d go on down to Vonore or Madisonville or Spring City or Athens or Crossville and so forth,” Littmann said.

“To trade 20 seconds of total eclipse with 2 minutes-20 seconds of total eclipse, boy you will thank you’re lucky stars, which you will see during a total eclipse of the sun: stars out in the daytime.”

As for how Littmann will experience this total eclipse, “I’m leading a group of 50 going to Douglas, Wyoming,” he said.