Don’t go to the light!
Northwest Arkansas to experience 90 percent of eclipse
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.