An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about Beaufort County library branches giving away glasses. The library system is offering free eclipse glasses only if you attend one of its programs about the eclipse.
Beaufort County is just outside the path of totality for next month’s solar eclipse, but just how much less of it will we see?
Throughout the county, the moon will appear to cover roughly 98 percent of the sun, plus or minus about a half a percent depending where you are. Beaufort, for example, will see nearly a percent more coverage than Bluffton.
Those wishing to see a total eclipse will need to head into the path of totality, a 50-mile wide swath that will pass over the entire continental United States before passing over Charleston and heading out to sea. Along this path, the moon will appear to completely cover the sun.
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“The key thing is that if you want to see the corona and the sky go dark and all the rest, you need to be in the path of totality, in the shadow (of the moon),” said Sean Brittain, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Clemson. “If you’re outside of the shadow you won’t notice it getting darker or anything.”
That means that even though roughly 98 percent of the sun will be covered when the eclipse hits its peak in the Lowcountry around 2:45 p.m. Aug. 21, you won’t be able to tell unless you are looking at it with eclipse glasses or a pinhole camera. The sun is so bright that even two percent of it can keep the sky as bright as it is on a cloudy day, and human eyes can’t perceive the difference.
There are many perks to being in the path of totality. Chief among them is that during that time you will be able to take off your glasses and gaze directly at the eclipse. This is only possible at the height of a full eclipse, as the energy from the sun’s corona at that time is not sufficient to damage eyesight. The slightest sliver of light from the sun’s disc is, though, so those not able to see the full eclipse will need to leave their glasses on throughout.
“While in the shadow, you might see some stars, you can see ripples from the diffraction of the sunlight around the edge of the moon,” said Brittain. “The biggest thing is that when you block out the central core of the sun you can see the corona. This is the outer part of the sun. You’ll see these streamers kind of shimmering in the sky, and it’s going to look like the sun gets a lot bigger all of a sudden.”
Up until the moment of total eclipse, the experience will be the same no matter where you are, and you will need glasses to see what is happening. Totality will last roughly 2 1/2 minutes, but as brief as it is, Brittain says seeing it is absolutely worth it.
“Having an eclipse go through your own back yard is incredibly rare,” said Brittain. “It happens once every few hundred years. It’s definitely worth getting into the path of totality if you can do it. I’d carve out some time in the afternoon to go do that.”
Charleston is roughly a two-hour drive from Bluffton and Hilton Head, and about an hour and a half from Beaufort per Google maps. Hotels in the area are scarce, but the round trip is drivable in an afternoon.
Those looking for eclipse glasses can get them free by attending one of the Beaufort County libraries’ eclipse programs. They are also widely available for purchase online.