A Once-in-a-Lifetime Experience

Duke Energy Education Center is Upstate South Carolina's Headquarters for 2017 Total Solar Eclipse

The Boston Red Sox were on top of the world in 1918, buoyed by a slew of star pitchers, guys like Bullet Joe Bush and Carl Mays and a 23-year old kid who also doubled as the league’s best hitter: George Herman Ruth Jr., better known as the Babe. Little did the Sox know it, but 1918 was the team’s high-water mark in the 20th century. Boston didn’t win another World Series until the improbable 2004 postseason. 

1918 is remembered for far more than the Red Sox climb to baseball’s pinnacle, though. It was the year of President Woodrow Wilson’s ocean voyage to Europe and the Paris Peace Conference to end the Great War. General Motors bought a small motor car company called Chevrolet. Two Spanish Flu outbreaks sickened people across the globe. 

And at just before 3 p.m., on June 8, in Baker City, Oregon, the sky grew dark for more than two full minutes, the result of a cosmic coincidence that brought the moon directly in front of the sun: a total solar eclipse. The path of the eclipse traversed the sky from Oregon to the Atlantic Coast of Florida. It was the first coast-to-coast total solar eclipse in American history, and the first total eclipse exclusive to the United States since before the nation’s founding in 1776.

Now, in a span much greater than the one between two Red Sox baseball championships, comes the second.

On Aug. 21, 2017, the skies over Oregon will dim again, and the sun and moon will dance in lockstep across the United States, delighting sky watchers in places like Idaho Falls, Idaho; Casper, Wyoming; Paducah, Kentucky –and across South Carolina.

And that’s where Duke Energy’s World of Energy at Oconee Nuclear Station comes in. It’s an education center that for nearly 50 years has met the educational and cultural needs of communities in and around the upstate,  and staff there are preparing for a yearlong series of events to celebrate what’s being called the Great American Total Solar Eclipse.

“For many this is a once-in-lifetime event,” said Chris Rimel, World of Energy manager and communications manager for Duke’s South Carolina nuclear fleet. “The eclipse fits well into the World of Energy’s education mission – we’re inviting students from across the Upstate to watch the eclipse from the World of Energy’s three-acre front lawn; I’m hopeful the lawn will be packed with students watching the sky that afternoon.”

The kickoff begins on Oct. 25, 2016 with one of the World of Energy’s seasonal Super Tuesday community events that regularly draw hundreds from nearby communities. And just like the Great American Total Solar Eclipse’s path, this month’s Super Tuesday is serendipitous.

For many this is a once-in-lifetime event...I’m hopeful the lawn will be packed with students watching the sky that afternoon.

Dr. Donald Liebenberg is an adjunct professor in the Clemson University Department of Physics, just a few miles away from the World of Energy. As it turns out, he’s a physicist who has studied solar eclipses since the 1950s. He once observed a total solar eclipse from aboard the now-retired supersonic passenger jet, the Concord, high over the Atlantic Ocean. He’s published papers in scientific journals with titles like “Susceptibility in Superconductors and Spin Systems.” And Dr. Liebenberg wrote a chapter in the 1991 book “Transport Phenomena in High Temperature Superconductors.” His contribution was titled “Chemistry of Superconductor Materials—Structure, Preparation, Characterization and Theory.”

But don’t worry: he’ll present a less arcane presentation at Super Tuesday at the World of Energy on Oct. 25, beginning at 10 a.m., focused on his history as an eclipse hunter and what residents of upstate South Carolina can expect next year.

Dr. Liebenberg’s presentation is just the beginning. Events and activities at the World of Energy throughout 2017 will have the Great American Total Solar Eclipse as its theme, including a quilt show by local artisans who are incorporating the scientific phenomena into their designs. Other events are being planned, and the World of Energy is already full of books, informational pamphlets, historical items  and decorations highlighting the Great American Total Solar Eclipse.

Rimel said it all fits into his plan for the World of Energy to be a base of operations for this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

“It’s exciting because the opportunity to offer the World of Energy as the headquarters for eclipse learning in a fun and engaging way. Personally, I’m thrilled to be at the right place at the right time to witness this phenomenal event.”

Heading into 2017, the Boston Red Sox are once again among the best teams in baseball. A total solar eclipse is on its way.

You’d better catch it while you can. The next coast-to-coast total solar eclipse won’t happen again until August 12, 2045, and you’ll have to wait until 2078 to see it again in South Carolina.

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