You can’t blame people in Nashville for being excited about the total solar eclipse that will darken the city on August 21, 2017.
“The last time the path of totality crossed through town Nashville wasn’t even a thing!” laughed Derrick Rohl, manager of the Sudekum Planetarium at the Adventure Science Center in Nashville. Indeed, the last total solar eclipse there happened on July 29, 1478.
“It’s a big deal for us,” Rohl said.
Rohl’s big role in the planetarium’s preparation for the eclipse has been the creation of an exciting new show about eclipses. Titled Eclipse: The Sun Revealed, it has been in the works for more than a year. It starts off with a look at the ways people have responded to total solar eclipses over time.
“It gives people a great look at different cultural histories, ways that different cultures have interpreted eclipses and just how they would react,” Rohl said. Eclipse lore is filled with serpents and dragons and other scary creatures eating the Sun. The show also explores the geometry of eclipses so viewers will better understand what’s happening, and takes a look back at the interesting science that has been accomplished during total solar eclipses.
Of course, it also has the obligatory lessons about how to safely view the eclipse, and Rohl says they stress that during totality, it’s OK to look up without eye protection.
“It’s one of the greatest views that nature has for us and we would hate to have anyone miss that,” Rohl said.
Eclipse: The Sun Revealed will premiere next weekend, January 21, exactly seven months before the total solar eclipse will hit town. Rohl said they’ve also sold it to planetariums in four other states and others are expressing interest.
Speaking of eye safety, that’s been a big investment for the Adventure Science Center, which ordered some 300,000 pairs of eclipse glasses.
“We have pallets and pallets of eclipse glasses sitting out on a loading dock now,” Rohl laughed. The glasses are earmarked for the city’s school kids, science center visitors, hotels, the convention and visitors bureau, and others. Center staff are helping teachers with lesson plans about eclipses, and are helping everyone from city officials to park rangers and bus drivers learn about the eclipse. That’s for good reason; Rohl says they’ve heard estimates that as many as two million visitors may hit Nashville for the eclipse.
Bracing for visitors
“We’re trying to prepare as many people around town as we can to be experts,” he said. “We’re trying to connect as many people as we can just to make sure that this a smooth experience for the huge amount of people that will be here to share it with us.”
In addition to the planetarium show, they’re planning an eclipse festival for the weekend before August 21. While many of the events remain tentative at this date, the festival will likely include lots of information about the eclipse, and Rohl expects it will also touch on virtual reality, robotics, and other cool topics.
“We’re not just limiting it to astronomy; we’re really expanding it to all the different science that we’d like to have people exploring and understanding and appreciating,” he said.
Other attractions of Nashville
One of the reasons that visitor estimates are so high in Nashville is that Music City is already a great tourist draw.
“Nashville is such a tourist friendly city even without an eclipse happening,” Rohl said. “While there are many other cities within the path, Nashville is a very very enticing place for people to choose.”
He expects folks from as far away as Chicago might rise in the wee hours and make the trip to Nashville for the eclipse, noting that practically everyone in the U.S. is within a day’s drive of the path of totality. While it’s a tourist town, Rohl says many Music City hotels have been booked for a long time. He’s got a spare room in his house, but it’s still up in the air who gets it.
“I think a lot of people who live in Nashville might be having long-lost relatives coming out of the woodwork,” Rohl laughed.
There are a couple of other space and astronomy attractions in the region besides the eclipse and the Adventure Science Center. Rohl suggested a visit to the Dyer Observatory, operated by Vanderbilt University in Brentwood, Tennessee, just a bit south of Nashville; and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Alabama, which is just a couple of hours drive to the south.
Total eclipse mania
Rohl noted that the buzz is certainly building about the eclipse. He fields several calls each day already, and expects it will only increase. Social media is helping to spread the word, something we didn’t have the last time a total solar eclipse crossed our entire country, back in 1918.
“The hype around this one really makes it so that everyone is expecting it to be the biggest astronomical event ever to happen in the United States,” Rohl said. “It’s something really exciting to look forward to, and of course Nashville is a mighty convenient place to live with that coming.”
Podcast of our interview with Derrick Rohl:
Trailer for the planetarium show Eclipse: The Sun Revealed: