Not the full show, but still an eclipse party

Chapel Hill’s Morehead Planetarium hosting eclipse celebration; southwestern N.C. best place to view total eclipse

Kids gaze at the stars at the GlaxoSmithKline Fulldome Theater at Morehead Planetarium and Science Center. (Morehead Planetarium)

CHAPEL HILL — The Triangle will experience about 93 percent obscuration of the sun during the Aug. 21 solar eclipse — enough to make an event of it at the Morehead Planetarium and Science Center in Chapel Hill, but nothing like those in southwestern North Carolina will see if they live in or travel to areas where the moon will block the sun in its entirety.

The sun will be completely blocked in a 70 mile-wide path from South Carolina to Oregon, and it will start at 2:35 p.m. for those in that range in North Carolina, lasting two minutes and 40 seconds.


While Molly Molpus, communications manager at Morehead Planetarium, is expecting a potential record-breaking crowd to visit the planetarium, she’s still encouraging people to travel west for the full show.

“I’ve been told they’ll be glad they made the trip,” Molpus said. “If they have interest in the first place in this type of event, it will make a difference. But I’ve never experienced one myself. … If at all possible, they should go to the path of totality, because it’s not going to be the same [here].”

Molpus won’t get to experience the 160 seconds of total obscuration this time either, as she’ll be working at the planetarium where — if weather cooperates — they expect thousands of visitors.

At Morehead Planetarium and in the Triangle, the moon’s passing — when viewed with eclipse glasses — “will be like the moon is taking a bite out of the sun. But it’s not going to get dark, necessarily,” Molpus said.

The 2012 transit of Venus was a big event for Morehead Planetarium, drawing 3,000 to 4,000 people, and the eclipse could, well, eclipse that.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime astronomical event that provides a platform for us to deliver on our mission,” Molpus said. “It’s a great teaching moment in many ways.”

The Aug. 21 eclipse will be the first time since 1970 that a total eclipse can be seen in North Carolina. The next, according to the Morehead Planetarium website, will be May 11, 2078.

Morehead Planetarium’s Solar Eclipse Celebration will be noon to 4:30 on Aug. 21. Tickets have already sold out to eclipse presentations inside the planetarium, but there will be activities open to the public, including a live stream of the path of totality, games and activities, food trucks and more.