On Aug. 21, 2017, Bowling Green residents will have among the best views of the first total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States since 1979.

It's been almost 100 years since the U.S. experienced a total solar eclipse visible across the country. Western Kentucky University physics and astronomy professor Gordon Emslie said this will be a once-in-a-lifetime event.

"Our community should be aware of thousands of people traveling (here) to see the eclipse," Emslie said. "It's interesting to see the human reaction to this phenomenon of watch(ing) the sun disappear in the middle of the day, animals go(ing) to sleep and a big black shadow racing towards you."

A total eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly in front of the sun, Emslie said. He said the event will start off as a partial eclipse, which will look like a bite being taken out of the sun with the moon slowly eating more of it until it reaches totality. No more than two total eclipses occur in a year and usually run along a narrow path, only visible for a few minutes.

Plans are in motion to set up a viewing area at Houchens-Smith Stadium at WKU. Also, Emslie said WKU plans to do a lot of educational outreach so the community will know what to expect. 

Bowling Green Area Convention and Visitors Bureau Executive Director Vicki Fitch said her organization is interested in the eclipse because travelers driving on Interstate 65 will enter the path of the eclipse at about mile marker 26. Those traveling to see the eclipse won't all fit in Hopkinsville – which has been dubbed a sort of viewing epicenter – so they most likely will reach out to Bowling Green, she said. A couple of hotels have already received some calls about the date, she said.

"This is a big deal. We are working to provide, in conjunction with WKU, some viewing sites and we plan to order some protective eyeglasses," Fitch said. "We're excited that we're in the path and the more we learn about it the more excited we are."

The protective eyeglasses are important because even a quick look into direct sunlight can damage eyes, and regular sunglasses are not sufficient. According to NASA's website, it's not safe to view partial phases of an eclipse without taking special precautions. If protection is not used, it can result in permanent eye damage or blindness. It is, however, safe to see the eclipse when the sun is completely blocked as it will be briefly in Bowling Green.

The total eclipse will only be visible in Bowling Green for 73 seconds. The longest viewing time location across the 14-state path of totality will be in Hopkinsville for 160 seconds. Other states that will run along the totality path include Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, Montana and Iowa. The next total solar eclipse viewable from the U.S. won't be until 2024, and the next coast-to-coast total solar eclipse will be in 2045, which makes the eclipse one of the rarest events in nature, according to nationaleclipse.com.

Hopkinsville-Christian County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau Executive Director Cheryl Cook started receiving calls about the eclipse in 2007, and she thought someone was playing a joke on her. She said they've been meeting with other regions in Kentucky to talk about security, hospitality and other aspects of the event.

"We've been told that we'll double our population during that event," Cook said. "I've talked to people in Germany, Japan, Norway, Australia and India. The man from India is wanting to bring 200 students."

Emslie said that moons and planets move in very predictable ways and you can predict the path of the moon hundreds and thousands of years in advance. He said during the eclipse that the sky becomes so dark that the stars and planets are visible and for most people this may be the only time they ever see Mercury. He also said that as it gets darker, the air will get distinctly cooler.

"I promise, interesting things will start to happen in Bowling Green around lunch time on Aug. 21 next year," Emslie said.

— Follow faith/general assignments reporter Simone C. Payne on Twitter @_SimonePayne or visit bgdailynews.com.

— Editor's note: An earlier version of this story had incorrect information regarding the safety of viewing an eclipse. It is safe to view a full eclipse at it's peak without precautions but not safe to view as it moves to that stage.

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