People prepare for total eclipse
Experts: Seeing it worth trip north
Ninety-five percent sounds like a lot.
But the 95 percent solar eclipse Arkansas will experience on Aug. 21 will be nothing like the total eclipse people will get a few hours north in Missouri, said Angela Speck, director of astronomy at the University of Missouri in Columbia.
The difference is like night and day, she said.
The sun is 1 million times brighter than the full moon, said Speck. If an eclipse is 99 percent, that means 1 percent of the sun is still shining, and 1 percent of the sun is 10,000 times brighter than the full moon.
“You won’t get darkness,” Speck said. “That’s why it’s worth it. If you’re within driving distance of total darkness, just get there.”
In the Aug. 21 total eclipse, the moon will completely block the sun’s bright face for up to 2 minutes and 40 seconds, turning day into night and making visible the
otherwise hidden solar corona, “one of nature’s most awesome sights,” according to NASA.
It’ll happen fast, Speck said. People in the total eclipse path will be overtaken by the moon’s shadow moving at 1,500 mph.
“The sky surrounding the sun will grow very dark very quickly,” according to eclipse2017.org. “Stars and planets will pop out of nowhere. Roosters will crow and insects will chirp as though night is falling. If you look to the west, you’ll see a beautiful black curtain with hints of sunset-orange north and south of it. … In the last few seconds before totality, that dull blackness you saw off to the west will suddenly spring up out of the Earth and take over the whole sky like a gigantic curtain being pulled over you.”
Then, a couple of minutes later, it will be over. The moon will move on, and daylight will return.
This will be the first total solar eclipse to cross the continental U.S. since 1918 and the first total solar eclipse visible anywhere in the continental U.S. since 1979.
The total eclipse will cut a 70-mile-wide path from Oregon to South Carolina, including part of central Missouri, which is about six hours north of Little Rock on a normal driving day.
But Aug. 21 won’t be a normal driving day.
Speck advises Arkansans who want to see the total eclipse to get to central Missouri a day early at the latest. Otherwise, they might get stuck in traffic and miss the total eclipse. The total eclipse will occur shortly after 1 p.m. on Aug. 21 in Missouri, which is the closest place to view the eclipse for 30 million people.
For residents of northeast Arkansas, the total eclipse will pass through part of southern Illinois that might be a shorter drive than going to the total eclipse path in Missouri.
The entire North American continent will experience a partial solar eclipse on Aug. 21 lasting between two and three hours.
In Arkansas, the partial eclipse will begin about 11:45 a.m. and end about 2:45 p.m., peaking shortly after 1 p.m.
The partial eclipse will be about 95 percent in Jonesboro, 92 percent in Fayetteville, 90 percent in Little Rock and 82 percent in Texarkana, according to arkansassky.com, the website of the Arkansas SkyDome Planetarium.
Tillman Kennon said the total eclipse is well worth a trip north. He’s associate chairman of the chemistry and physics department at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro and a professor of science education.
Kennon said the difference between a partial and total eclipse is like the difference between scuba diving on Greers Ferry Lake vs. the Cayman Islands.
In the Caymans, you can see the bottom of the boat from 100 feet below the surface of the water, he said.
“For me, a total eclipse should be one of your bucket list items,” Kennon said. “Everybody ought to see a total eclipse one time in their life.”
Kennon said his grandmother was 13 years old when the 1918 eclipse put out the sun near Swifton.
“She said it got dark enough that their chickens came into the chicken house and the milk cows came into the barn like they did at night,” Kennon said.
She never forgot it and frequently told the tale.
“It’s a significant event,” Kennon said. “You remember where you were and what you were doing.”
Hotel rooms have been hard to find in Missouri’s swath of totality.
They’re 95 percent booked around Columbia and Jefferson City for the night of Aug. 20, according to Travelocity. com. And what’s available may not be desirable or affordable.
Shakespeare Chateau Inn and Gardens in St. Joseph, Mo., has been booked solid for a year and a half for the nights of Aug. 20 and 21. Isobel McGowan, owner of the bed and breakfast, said a family in Spain called three years ago to book a room for those nights. They’re coming to America just to see the eclipse.
“Besides the eclipse, that weekend is also the weekend a lot of parents are bringing students back to college,” said Renee Graham, director of tourism for Callaway County, Mo. “It’s traditionally a decent weekend for hotels anyway, but then you add the eclipse on top of that.”
There are more rooms available in Kansas City and St. Louis, but both of those cities are on the edge of totality. A 30-mile drive north of Kansas City or south of St. Louis would provide over 2 minutes of total eclipse instead of just a few seconds, according to greatamericaneclipse.com.
Many campsites within the total eclipse swath are also already booked, said Stephen Foutes, a spokesman for the Missouri Division of Tourism.
But car, RV and tent campsites were still available Thursday in Jefferson City’s “Eclipse Village,” said Jessica Mosier, who works for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Forestry department. She said the cost is $75 for two nights or $100 for three nights, regardless of whether it’s a tent, car or RV.
Mosier said they’re expecting an influx of as many as 100,000 people for the eclipse in Jefferson City. The state capital’s population is 43,079. Missouri state workers with nonessential jobs in Jefferson City will get Aug. 21 off work for the eclipse.
Kennon booked rooms a year in advance for seven faculty members and students from ASU who are going with him to Fulton, Mo., to monitor the eclipse. Another 50 students from ASU are planning to travel to Fulton in a bus the morning of Aug. 21, but they aren’t part of Kennon’s research team.
Besides his other titles, Kennon is the research director for Arkansas BalloonSat, a scientific research and educational program that investigates the atmospheric conditions of near space using an array of sensors carried aloft by weather balloons.
Arkansas BalloonSat was founded in 2006 after NASA contacted Ed Roberts, a Pottsville High School teacher, about starting a high-altitude ballooning project. Roberts, who teaches physics and astronomy, said he talked Kennon into helping him. They manage the project and have done 49 balloon launches so far.
On Aug. 21, Arkansas BalloonSat will be one of about 50 teams that will be filming the eclipse for a NASA livestream, which will be available at http://eclipse.stream. live. The Arkansas group will float a balloon about 20 miles above the Earth and film the moon’s shadow as it blackens the Missouri terrain. If it’s cloudy that day, they’ll film the clouds instead, said Kennon. They’ll fly the balloon unless there are thunderstorms.
A second camera system under the balloon will take three-dimensional still images.
As the weather balloon ascends, it will swell to about 30 feet in diameter, then explode, said Kennon. If all goes according to plan, a parachute will open and bring the cameras and equipment floating gently back to Earth. The students and professors on the ground will use GPS technology to track the falling equipment and hopefully retrieve it.
Roberts is taking seven students from Pottsville High School to Fulton for the eclipse. Besides photographing, Roberts said his students will be measuring the ground temperature change, radiation levels and balloon launch operations. Roberts is director of educational outreach for Arkansas BalloonSat.
A professor and student from the University of Central Arkansas in Conway are also expected to assist Kennon and Roberts.
About 17 students from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville will also be in Fulton that day, said Sara Port, a Ph.D. candidate who is organizing the event. Many of the UA students are affiliated with an astronomy club called S.P.A.C.E. Hogs. They’ll set up displays and solar telescopes for students at Fulton High School.
For anyone planning to view the partial eclipse, NASA advises using special eclipse glasses or a pinhole viewing devise. Regular sunglasses won’t be enough.
“Looking directly at the sun is unsafe except during the brief total phase of a solar eclipse, when the moon entirely blocks the sun’s bright face, which will happen only within the narrow path of totality,” according to NASA.
Information on safety and glasses recommendations can be found at eclipse2017. nasa.gov/safety.
Arkansans who miss the total eclipse later this month will have another opportunity in seven years when a total solar eclipse crosses Arkansas in 2024.