The north stands of the University of Georgia’s Sanford Stadium are usually not the best place to be on an afternoon watching the Bulldogs.
But for a more celestial event, they might be the best seats in Athens on Aug. 21.
That afternoon, Athens will see a near-total eclipse of the sun, and the University of Georgia and its UGA Athletic Association are opening up the stadium to the public for eclipse-viewing on that day.
The north stands face into the sun, which make them one of the best places in Athens to be on that afternoon.
Most football stadiums are oriented east-west, but because Sanford Stadium was built in a little valley, it is oriented with the sidelines, with the main seating areas on the north and south sides.
“That means the north stands are looking into the sun. It’s not so much fun for a football game, but perfect for an eclipse,” UGA geography professor John Knox said.
Athens is just outside the path of totality, but it’s still going to be awe-inspiring, predicted Knox, who approached Athletic Association officials back in March about staging an eclipse event in the stadium.
UGA and athletic association administrators agreed almost immediately when he and Marshall Shepherd, another geography professor, explained the significance of this eclipse.
“The Athletic Association has been absolutely wonderful to work with,” said Knox, who teaches in UGA’s atmospheric sciences program, headed by Shepherd, a former NASA scientist who holds a professorship endowed by the UGA Athletic Association and is also a member of the UGA Athletic Association board of trustees.
Knox scheduled a class he teaches in introductory weather and climate this fall for the afternoon.
“Then I thought, maybe we can do something large,” he said.
It’s hard to predict how big a crowd there might be, Knox said. But UGA will give away eclipse glasses to the first 5,000 people who come to the event they’re calling “Eclipse Blackout,” running from 1 -4 p.m. in the stadium. It is not safe to watch the eclipse without special glasses.
Weather could put a damper on the day, though even if it’s cloudy, it’s going to be impressive, Knox said.
When the moon passes in front of the sun in a solar eclipse, the temperature drops sharply, the wind dies down, birds stop singing and, of course, it gets dark.
The path of total darkness is slightly to the north of Athens and will pass over places such as Hartwell, where the Chamber of Commerce has scheduled an eclipse-watching event, and Clemson University and Columbia, South Carolina.
But it’s still going to be spectacular in Athens, where 99.1 percent of the sun will be blocked out at the eclipse’s peak at about 2:39 p.m.
“Even if we get some clouds in the way it’s going to get pretty dark and you’re going to know something’s happening,” Knox said.
The eclipse begins and ends over the sea, but the path of total eclipse on land will begin near Salem, Ore., then move east and south across the entire continental United States to Charleston, S.C. There won’t be another coast-to-coast solar eclipse until 2078.
The program for the day in Sanford Stadium will include special guests as yet to be named.
“We’re making it up as we go,” said Knox, quoting Indiana Jones.
On the stadium’s giant video screen will be images of the eclipse and people watching it as it passes across the continent.
Knox has contacted UGA student government leaders and others for ideas about programming for that day.
People in the stadium will also be able to watch the eclipse live as it passes over Athens on the big screen, thanks in part to Maurice Snook, known to thousands of area schoolchildren as Mr. Science because of the spectacular chemical magic shows he performs regularly in Athens-area elementary schools.
Snook got together with athletic association technicians who operate the video cameras that feed live action shots from UGA football games onto the big video screen and helped them test out a special filter that will allow them to show the eclipse’s progress over Athens on the screen.
A huge renovation is going on in the stadium’s west end, so entry into the stadium will be from Reed Plaza on the stadium’s north side, said UGA Athletic Association executive associate athletic director Josh Brooks.
The renovation includes the addition of a much larger video screen, but that won’t be installed until 2018, he said.
Concessions will be on sale; a good thing as it could be hot that day. However, the temperature will drop by as much as 15 degrees when the moon covers the sun, Knox said.
The average high temperature on Aug. 21 in Athens is 90 degrees, according to the National Weather Service.
It’s too soon for forecasters to say what the weather will be that day, but odds are good; about an 80 percent chance there will be no rain, and a 71 percent chance clouds or rain won’t obscure the view.
The UGA Department of Geography, the department of physics and astronomy, the UGA atmospheric sciences programs and faculty in the College of Education are planning related learning activities and lining up guests for the event.
Tentative emcees include Knox, Shepherd, UGA astronomy professor Craig Weigert and UGA climatologist Pam Knox, John Knox’s wife, who is a former astronomy teacher and former Wisconsin state climatologist.