Don’t go to the light!

North­west Arkansas to ex­pe­ri­ence 90 per­cent of eclipse

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - OUR TOWN - LAURINDA JOENKS

One of the great­est phe­nom­ena in the uni­verse, a once-in-a-life­time ex­pe­ri­ence for many peo­ple, oc­curs Aug. 21. A full so­lar eclipse will track through the mid­dle of the United States, just a few hours north in Mis­souri.

Sun watch­ers in North­west Arkansas will not see a to­tal eclipse but 91 per­cent of the sun will be blocked, pro­vid­ing a glimpse of a par­tial eclipse or “deep” eclipse, said Scott Roberts, owner of Ex­plore Sci­en­tific in Springdale, a com­pany that builds and sup­plies tele­scopes, binoc­u­lars, mi­cro­scopes and other niche elec­tron­ics.

Roberts viewed a full eclipse in 1979 in Hawaii and com­pared his ex­pe­ri­ence to the mo­ment his first daugh­ter was born. “It’s a Hope di­a­mond-level event.”


“Any time some­thing passes be­tween two bod­ies in space, it’s an eclipse,” said Kather­ine Auld, an astron­omy and ge­ol­ogy in­struc­tor at North­west Arkansas Com­mu­nity Col­lege, dur­ing a pro­gram about the eclipse pre­sented last month at Hobbs State Park — Con­ser­va­tion Area. “The moon will pass be­tween the sun and the earth. It hap­pens ev­ery month, but the moon has to be ex­actly be­tween.”

In fact, sev­eral fac­tors must be in play for those on Earth to view a to­tal eclipse, ac­cord­ing to a web­site cre­ated by Alex Hixon and Mel­lissa Goodger, stu­dents on the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas physics li­brary staff who were su­per­vised by as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of physics Ju­lia Ken­nefick.

The moon must be in its “new” stage, with the dark side of the moon di­rectly fac­ing the Earth.

The moon’s or­bit must be per­fectly matched with the Earth’s. There are only two points from which the shadow can fall on the Earth. These are called “nodes.”

The moon must be close to the Earth.

“The Earth and sun are aligned with the moon at a node, and a shadow is cast upon the Earth,” the web­site reads. “The op­po­site con­fig­u­ra­tion — when the full moon is fac­ing Earth — is when we have lu­nar eclipses.”

The ring of sun­light that will shine around the moon dur­ing a to­tal eclipse is called the “corona,” Auld said. “Af­ter years of look­ing at eclipses, sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered dis­tri­bu­tion of the corona does not al­ways look the same. A more ac­tive sun means a more ac­tive corona,” show­ing flares and spots, she ex­plained. But right now, the sun is near the point on its 22-year cy­cle ex­hibit­ing min­i­mal ac­tiv­ity.

Auld said she has never ex­pe­ri­enced a to­tal eclipse and is quite ex­cited. She and oth­ers from the non­profit Sup­port­ing STEM and Space — of which she serves as the chair­man of the board of di­rec­tors — will view the eclipse from near St. Joseph, Mo.

“I hope I get a high van­tage point (for view­ing the eclipse),” said Brett Bo­nine, a UA se­nior from Fayet­teville and pres­i­dent-elect of Space and Plan­e­tary As­so­ci­a­tion for Col­lab­o­ra­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion (SPACE) Hogs, the astron­omy club at the uni­ver­sity. Twelve mem­bers of the club will travel to Ful­ton, Mo., to help high school stu­dents view the eclipse.

“If you’re on a moun­tain, you can see the moon’s shadow race from east to west across the land at 1,000 miles per hour,” Bo­nine ex­plained his wish. It will look sim­i­lar to the shadow cast by a pass­ing cloud.

Bo­nine also looks for­ward to phe­nom­e­non re­lated to the eclipse — such as Baily’s beads.

“Baily’s beads hap­pen right be­fore to­tal­ity,” he ex­plained. They oc­cur when the moun­tains and craters on the moon block part of the sun from reach­ing the Earth. “And the fi­nal bead looks like a di­a­mond ring,” he said.


In any given lo­ca­tion, the eclipse will take about two hours for the shadow to travel in front of one side of the sun to the other. Dur­ing most of that time, and here in North­west Arkansas, peo­ple can com­pare the light to that of a cloudy day, Auld said.

“But in the (to­tal­ity) zone, it can go from cloudy day to moon­lit night in a mat­ter of sec­onds,” she said.

“In to­tal­ity, it will be night and day dif­fer­ence,” Bo­nine said. “It will be close to pitch black, although some stars will be seen,” in­clud­ing Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mer­cury.

“If you walk out­side, you will not no­tice much dif­fer­ence,” said Les­lie Pit­man, teacher on spe­cial as­sign­ment for sci­ence in the Springdale school sys­tem. “The sun has so much en­ergy, that un­less you’re aware of what’s go­ing on, you will not know there’s an eclipse.”

That to­tal­ity zone stretches for only 70 miles on either side of the sun’s di­rect path. And the to­tal­ity of the eclipse will last only about two min­utes.

NASA pro­vides an in­ter­ac­tive map on its web­site for the eclipse. For the zip code of the Springdale of­fice of the North­west Arkansas Demo­crat-Gazette — 72764 — NASA pre­dicts the eclipse will peak at 1:12:46 p.m., when the moon ob­scures 91.3 per­cent of the sun.

In Fayet­teville, the eclipse will be­gin at 11:43 a.m. and end at 2:41 p.m., with the event peak­ing at 1:13 p.m. and 90.6 per­cent cov­er­age, ac­cord­ing to NASA.

“The to­tal­ity will reach Ore­gon at 10:16 a.m. Pa­cific time, and will end in South Carolina at 2:49 p.m. Eastern time. That’s an hour and 33 min­utes to cross the coun­try. Fast!” reads the UA web­site.

Of course, cloud cov­er­age could hide the eclipse event, but North­west Arkansas only rarely records cloud cover on Aug. 21.


“Any given lo­ca­tion will see a to­tal so­lar eclipse only once in more than 300 years, on av­er­age, ac­cord­ing to the UA physics li­brary web­site.

But don’t look at it — even with sun­glasses on!

“If you look di­rectly at the sun, it’s not if, but you WILL have per­ma­nent dam­age (to your eyes),” said Pit­man. “You could lose your sight.”

NASA warns: “It is never safe to look di­rectly at the sun’s rays — even if the sun is partly ob­scured.” The in­tense light from the sun can dam­age the retina and cause ‘per­ma­nent sco­toma’ or ‘a blind spot’ in the cen­tral vi­sion. Even when the sun is 99 per­cent ob­scured, it can still cause dam­age.”

“Use the glasses,” Auld said, as mem­bers of her or­ga­ni­za­tion dis­trib­uted view­ing glasses to participants at Hobbs State Park. “The glasses block 99.7 per­cent of the sun.”

“(View­ing) glasses look like a mir­ror point­ing up to the sun,” Bo­nine said. “Only 1/1000th of 1 per­cent light goes through.

“But don’t look di­rectly at the eclipse with­out the glasses, un­less you are look­ing to blind your­self,” he con­tin­ued.

The only safe time to re­move view­ing glasses would be dur­ing the few min­utes of the eclipse’s to­tal­ity — which will never hap­pen in North­west Arkansas.

“Even though 93 to 94 per­cent of sun will be cov­ered in North­west Arkansas, the sun is re­ally bright, and 7 per­cent is still a whole lot of sun,” Bo­nine said.

Bo­nine also warned not to look through lu­nar tele­scopes — the kind most hob­by­ists would have — with­out a so­lar fil­ter, which is fairly af­ford­able, he said.

“One thing to stress is ‘Don’t look out the tele­scope with­out a fil­ter,’” Bo­nine in­sisted. “Com­pare the size of the lens of the eye to the size of the lens of the tele­scope. The tele­scope lets in far more light, but projects it to the eye as a tiny laser beam.

“And it’s the same on other side of eclipse” — or af­ter to­tal­ity, he said.

“When Galileo built a tele­scope be­cause he won­dered what was on the sun — OW!” Auld yelped. “He was blinded by 30 per­cent in one eye and 70 per­cent in the other and could only see us­ing his pe­riph­eral vi­sion.”

The pos­si­bil­ity of dam­age from the sun dur­ing the eclipse is not any worse than reg­u­lar sun­light, Bo­nine said. But it’s never a good idea to look di­rectly at the sun.

Glasses are avail­able for sale at Wal­mart, although the closer to the path of the eclipse, the faster they are sell­ing, com­pany spokesman Meg­gan Kring re­ported Mon­day.

Ex­plore Sci­en­tific sells eclipse glasses, with pro­ceeds go­ing to sup­port the an­tique tele­scope re­cently ac­quired by Sup­port­ing STEM and Space, Roberts said.

“I have glasses in stock, but I’m sell­ing mil­lions,” he said. “If I did not have them in stock, I’d be out of busi­ness.”

Through the store in Springdale and on­line, the com­pany sells tele­scope fil­ters. Scopes de­signed for one to view the sun also are sell­ing well, he said.

Ex­plore Sci­en­tific sup­plied, at a deep dis­count, 26,000 pairs of glasses to Springdale Pub­lic Schools, enough for ev­ery stu­dent and staff mem­ber in the district to view the eclipse safely, Pit­man said. “We will be very clear with stu­dents to keep glasses on,” she added.

NASA and other re­sources ded­i­cated to the eclipse of­fer sev­eral other sug­ges­tions and di­rec­tions for view­ing the eclipse — through fin­ger­tips, a pin­hole cam­era …

“Any­where there is dap­pled sun­light acts like pin­hole,” Auld said. “A spat­ula — any­thing with cir­cu­lar holes will be­come a pin­hole, show­ing the cres­cent in the sky.”

“Or just look at the shadow of a leafy tree dur­ing the par­tial eclipse,” the NASA web­site sug­gested. “You’ll see the ground dap­pled with cres­cent suns pro­jected by the tiny spa­ces be­tween the leaves.”

Many on­line sites will of­fer stream­ing video, and free apps to watch the eclipse also are avail­able for smart phones, Bo­nine sug­gested.


The eclipse of­fers sci­en­tists the only way to study some parts of the sun, Auld said.

French as­tronomer Pierre Jules Ce­sar Janssen in 1868 dis­cov­ered an un­known el­e­ment — he­lium — in the sun’s promi­nence, and in 1919, Bri­tish as­tronomer Arthur Ed­din­ton af­firmed Ein­stein’s the­ory of gen­eral rel­a­tiv­ity, Auld pointed out in her pre­sen­ta­tion at Hobbs State Park.

“When else can you turn off the sun,” asked Wil­liam Sla­ton, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of physics at the Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Arkansas in Con­way.

Col­lege stu­dents from around the state have been par­tic­i­pat­ing in NASA re­search through the Arkansas Bal­loonSat.

“Arkansas has a space grant from NASA, pro­vided to states

that don’t get a lot of fed­eral fund­ing,” Sla­ton ex­plained. “It’s a work­force de­vel­op­ment grant, get­ting stu­dents ready to work for NASA or fed­eral labs. Stu­dents are build­ing pay­loads for high-al­ti­tude bal­loons.”

The Arkansas pro­gram will launch its 50th bal­loon dur­ing the eclipse at Ful­ton (Mo.) High School, ex­plained Till­man Ken­non, as­so­ciate chair­man of the chem­istry and physics depart­ment at Arkansas State Uni­ver­sity in Jones­boro.

Stu­dents at UCA are build­ing mon­i­tors to mea­sure tem­per­a­ture, pres­sure, ra­di­a­tion lev­els and light in­ten­sity as the bal­loon rises through at­mos­phere, “to see what hap­pens ‘when the sun turns off,’” Sla­ton said.

Light in­ten­sity should fol­low a math­e­mat­i­cal for­mula, ac­cord­ing to ge­o­graphic lo­ca­tion, and stu­dents are look­ing to con­firm this, Sla­ton con­tin­ued. “Me­te­o­rol­o­gists want to know what role does en­ergy from the sun play in weather phe­nom­e­non. It’s a rare ex­pe­ri­ence in me­te­o­rol­ogy to be able to ‘turn off the sun.’ They want to know the full me­te­o­ro­log­i­cal af­fect of how sun’s en­ergy in­put can af­fect cli­mate.”

The re­sults will be re­ported to NASA as well as pre­sented at a na­tional sci­ence meet­ing in the fall.

Ken­non said his ASU stu­dents are build­ing irid­ium modems that will con­nect with irid­ium satel­lites to share still im­ages and video to be live-streamed by NASA. The SPACE Hogs will set up spi­ral so­lar tele­scopes and in­stru­ments at Ful­ton High School to record the launch of the bal­loon, he said.

Lo­cally, school district co­or­di­na­tors and teach­ers have put to­gether cur­ricu­lum to teach stu­dents about the eclipse. EAST pro­grams will make pin­hole cam­eras, launch drones and even a weather bal­loon, co­or­di­na­tors said. Mem­bers of the Sugar Creek Astro­nom­i­cal So­ci­ety will visit area schools with their tele­scopes — and fil­ters — to help stu­dents watch the eclipse, said Bo­nine, who is a mem­ber.

NASA of­fers sev­eral chances for cit­i­zens to get in­volved in re­search by record­ing ob­ser­va­tions dur­ing the eclipse, Auld said. “Cit­i­zen sci­ence” op­por­tu­ni­ties can be found on NASA’s eclipse web­site.


Peo­ple have been ob­serv­ing eclipses for as long as 5,000 years, the UA web­site records. Pet­ro­glyphs dat­ing to 3000 to 3340 B.C. pos­si­bly de­pict­ing an eclipse have been dis­cov­ered in Ire­land. Baby­lo­nian clay tablets with eclipse ref­er­ences date to 518 to 465 B.C.

“In an­cient China, so­lar and lu­nar eclipses were re­garded as heav­enly signs that fore­told the fu­ture of the em­peror,” reads the UA web­site. “The an­cient Chi­nese be­lieved so­lar eclipses oc­cur when a ce­les­tial dragon de­vours the sun. They also be­lieved that this dragon at­tacks the moon dur­ing lu­nar eclipses.

“There are many sto­ries of how eclipses have been used to fore­tell im­por­tant po­lit­i­cal events, and for nearly all hu­man civ­i­liza­tions with a recorded his­tory,

to­tal so­lar eclipses were re­garded with fear and dread prior to the ad­vent of math­e­mat­i­cal schemes for predicting when they would oc­cur.”

Some in­sist night birds will start call­ing and do­mes­ti­cated an­i­mals will be con­fused. Tales of day­time an­i­mals “head­ing to the barn” abound, Auld said. “But some of NASA’s cit­i­zen sci­ence hope­fully will be able to de­ter­mine whether it’s re­ally sci­ence or hu­mans try­ing an­thro­po­mor­phize what they think on an­i­mals.

Night an­i­mals prob­a­bly won’t be af­fected, she said. “The (dark­ness of the to­tal eclipse) lasts only lasts two min­utes and then be­comes light again.”

“Leg­ends and su­per­sti­tions about the eclipse still ex­ist — like women who are preg­nant should stay in­side, and food pre­pared dur­ing the eclipse should be thrown out be­cause it’s bad,” Pit­man said.

“I love liv­ing un­der the Milky Way,” Roberts said. “I’ve seen me­teor falls, comets, su­per­novas … and those did not frighten me.” He had seen hun­dreds of im­ages and video lead­ing up to his en­counter with the 1991 to­tal so­lar eclipse in Hawaii, when he was 32 years old.

“I thought it would be like see­ing a beau­ti­ful, rare flower that blooms only once in 100 years,” Roberts said. “But, oh, my God! I got knots in my stom­ach. I got this feel­ing of im­pend­ing doom. It was sim­i­lar to when the Wiz­ard of Oz is un­veiled in the movie, and the flames were erupt­ing … That’s what see­ing a to­tal eclipse is like.

“I re­al­ized we re­ally are on a planet, spin­ning around a star that is go­ing around other ce­les­tial bod­ies and near a black hole in the Milky Way that is tak­ing us to parts of space we’ve never been be­fore. We re­ally are hurtling through the uni­verse.

“And I re­al­ized the only thing pro­tect­ing us from the other things fly­ing around out there is 400 kilo­me­ters of at­mos­phere, which is the air we breathe,” Roberts con­tin­ued.

“Un­til then, I knew this, but just in­tel­lec­tu­ally, not fun­da­men­tally. This is how the so­lar sys­tem re­ally works. We are wor­ried about bills, what our wife or hus­band said … but this is way big­ger.

“And now that stays at back of mind all the time. I call it en­light­en­ment.”


Brett Bo­nine, pres­i­dent-elect of Space and Plan­e­tary As­so­ci­a­tion for Col­lab­o­ra­tion and Ed­u­ca­tion (SPACE) Hogs, the astron­omy club at the Uni­ver­sity of Arkansas, mod­els a pair of view­ing glasses that will al­low him to watch the to­tal so­lar eclipse Aug. 21 with­out harm­ing his vi­sion. The only safe time to re­move view­ing glasses would be dur­ing the few min­utes of the eclipse’s to­tal­ity — which will never ap­pear in North­west Arkansas. “Even though 93 to 94 per­cent of sun will be cov­ered in North­west Arkansas, the sun is re­ally bright, and 7 per­cent is still a whole lot of sun,” Bo­nine said.

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