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Going Dark in Charleston: The Great American Eclipse

Solar eclipse over lake

Who turned out the lights?

There hasn’t been a total solar eclipse that tracked from coast to coast in the United States for nearly 100 years. It’s going to be a while before we get a celestial show like this again, and Charleston and Mount Pleasant have some of the best seats in the house!

Over the span of about an hour and a half on Monday, August 21, the moon will pass between the sun and the Earth. The show starts at 1:16 p.m., and the total eclipse will be at 2:46 p.m. Total coverage will only last for a minute or two, so don’t be late!

For that brief moment, everything in South Carolina will be on hold as we cast our gaze into the darkened sky (with proper eye protection, of course) for the most-documented eclipse in history.

Ancient Beliefs About Solar Eclipses

In many times and places, eclipses were a great source of fear. There are few things more reliable than the fact that the sun will rise and set each day, shining its light down on the world (provided there is no cloud cover).

What, then, would it mean to someone unfamiliar with the organization of our solar system if the sun were to go dark in the middle of the day? Such a rare and spectacular event would seem supernatural, a sight to inspire awe and fear.

If even the wonder of a full moon can give rise to ancient myths that last to this day, imagine what beliefs a spectacle like a solar eclipse could inspire!

People from around the world have speculated about the meaning of eclipses. Here are a few of the more interesting ones:

  • Scandinavian mythology tells of two great wolves: Skoll wanted to eat the sun, while Hati pursued the moon. An eclipse is the result of the wolves finally catching their prey. In an attempt to scare the deities away from the sun, we mortals should make as much noise as possible by screaming and shouting.

  • The Chippewa of North America worried that the sun was losing its fire, so they shot flaming arrows into the sky in an attempt to relight it. Well, it didn’t not work.

  • Korean mythology tells of a giant fire dog that enjoys taking a bite out of the sun. They handled the cosmological dog the same way I handle stray dogs in the yard: by making noise until it went away.

  • A Hindu legend describes the demon Rahu, who disguised himself as a god in order to drink an elixir granting immortality. The sun and moon told on Rahu, and the god Vishnu beheaded him. Rahu’s immortal head chases the sun and moon to this day, occasionally catching them and swallowing them. SCARY!

  • Many other cultures also believed a deity or cosmic creature was consuming the sun during an eclipse. For the Vietnamese, it was a frog. To the Chinese, it was a dragon. Some Native American tribes believed it was a bear that attempted to eat the sun.

Great Eclipses in History

Solar eclipse over trees

An eclipse might be cause for a nationwide holiday nowadays, but that wasn’t always the case:

    • 1133 A.D. An eclipse coincided with the death of King Henry I of England, helping to push the country into a civil war. 
    • 585 B.C. The Lydians and Medes (present-day Turkey) ended a 15-year war after interpreting a solar eclipse as a sign of heavenly disapproval. 
    • 763 B.C. In what is now Iraq, an insurrection in the city of Ashur occurred the same day that a total eclipse loomed overhead. 
    • 1302 B.C. The emperor of China interpreted a total solar eclipse as a warning, so he performed rituals in an attempt to rescue the sun.


Happy Great American Eclipse Day

While the 2017 solar eclipse is sure to be an amazing sight in Charleston and Mount Pleasant, make sure that you take steps to protect yourself and your children. You can do serious damage to your eyes if you attempt to watch the eclipse without protection.

You might not go blind, but staring at the sun can cause solar retinopathy. Overstimulation of light-sensitive cells can damage the retina, even if you feel no pain.

If it’s too late to find approved glasses, you can always try making your own cardboard box eclipse viewer. It may not be the most stylish way to watch, but it sure gets the job done: http://www.instructables.com/id/Cardboard-Box-Eclipse-Viewer/

Enjoy this once-in-a-lifetime event—just make sure you wear proper eye protection when you do.