MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — Thousands of people descended upon Middle Tennessee State University for the Great Tennessee Eclipse Monday (Aug. 21), knowing that it was a good chance they wouldn’t be around for the next total eclipse over this area — five-plus centuries from now.
They cheered wildly as the epic, coast-to-coast solar eclipse reached totality — with the sky literally darkening and exposing the planets Venus and Jupiter to the naked eye — at approximately 1:29 p.m. in the green area called the Science Corridor of Innovation.
Braving 90-plus degree heat and bringing pop-up tents, fold out chairs, picnic blankets (even a hammock was spotted), several thousand attendees gathered in the green space along MTSU’s Science Corridor of Innovation.
People from as far away as China and other foreign countries joined Americans from near and far in observing the awe-inspiring celestial phenomenon.
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon, which is 250,000 miles away, passes between Earth and the sun, which is 93 million miles away from the planet.
“It was beautiful,” said Kagen Elmore, 10, a fourth-grader at Hobgood Elementary School, attending the event not only with his classmates, but also his brother Torrian, father Will and mother Beverly, a STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) teacher at Hobgood.
Murfreesboro City Schools brought 600 children to the MTSU campus, which was one of six official viewing sites in the Greater Nashville Area. While city schools were in session Monday, Rutherford County Schools announced recently that it would be closed, allowing its students and their families to attend eclipse viewing events at MTSU and others around the area.
Hobgood third-grader Gabryella Gibson, 8, thought the eclipse “was really cool and I was scared a little bit. It was like a picture someone drew in the sky. Hobgood fourth-grader Armando Pacheco, 9, said “it was awesome. It was fun to see the moon in front of the sun.”
Lisa Trail, City Schools director of communications, said “everybody was saying it was an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Once it happened, children were screaming with delight.”
MTSU biochemistry alumnus Peter Ghattas of Nashville and a native of Alexandria, Egypt, got in line first to obtain the 9,000-plus free safety glasses sponsored by Turner Construction.
MTSU’s event featured a main stage that showcased student musical performances in the hours leading up to the total eclipse as well as on-stage interviews with faculty about the eclipse — viewing safety, the science behind it, the cool visuals and responses from it.
“I woke up early,” Ghattas said of the reason for arriving early to the Science Building. And he came from Nashville because “this is my school. It’s like my second home. I know the area of totality is less than Nashville, but I feel relaxed here.”
Lane College biology teacher Diane Sklensky drove with a friend to Murfreesboro because “there was totality here and not in Jackson (Tennessee),” where she lives.
John Gromos, vice president of Turner Construction, said he was “so proud to be associated with this event. What a great day to be in Middle Tennessee and to be at MTSU.”
Gromos told the large audience Turner has “25 MTSU grads on our roster, helping build other buildings.” Turner built the new Science Building in 2014 and renovated Davis Science Buiilding and Wiser-Patten Science Hall. Both reopened earlier this year.
Athletics head coaches Rick Stockstill (football), Kermit Davis (men’s basketball) and Jim McGuire (baseball) were part of the event. Stockstill invited everyone to come out for the Blue Raiders’ Sept. 2 football home opener against Vanderbilt. Davis and McGuire were utilized in an explanation about the solar eclipse.
University President Sidney A. McPhee entertained the president and first lady from Hunan Normal University, MTSU Board of Trustees members and others.
A group of 140 attended from the University of Alabama-Huntsville. High school groups included one from Florence, Alabama, and The Webb School in Bell Buckle, Tennessee.
One family from Corbin, Kentucky, included Sun Chips, Sunkist soft drinks, Moon Pies and Eclipse and Orbit chewing gun with their picnic lunch. People celebrated birthdays and anniversaries.
The selfie spot was a hit. Artists from the Match Records label in the College of Media and Entertainment performed for nearly two hours.
Department of Physics and Astronomy professor John Wallin described the 1-minute plus total eclipse as “way cooler than I thought. … That was fun. I’m going to try to remember some of it. We’re so lucky we got great weather.”
While walking to try and find his own family, Wallin encountered a mother, daughter and friends of the daughter from Huntsville. Mom Esther Ross is on the Alabama A&M faculty. Elisabeth Embden, 16, is a junior at Hazel Green High School. She is interest in astronomy, physics and astro-physics. Wallin instantly became an MTSU recruiter.
People can still watch MTSU’s production of the eclipse event on Facebook Live at https://www.facebook.com/mtsublueraiders/. MTSU’s broadcast also was available online via Livestream and was broadcast via satellite uplink and through public access channels across Tennessee and the nation.
A total solar eclipse will occur in seven years along the path of the Mississippi River. The next total eclipse to cross the Midstate will be in 2566.
The physics and astronomy faculty and staff collected the safety glasses to distribute to Third World countries for future eclipses.