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Will Day Turn to Night on August 21?

That will depend on where you are in the United States!

P. Clay Sherrod, Arkansas Sky Observatories

As we approach mid-morning and mid-day on Monday, August 21 throughout the USA, some of us will notice that the air is becoming just a little bit cooler...the wind might start blowing just a bit and the shadows on the ground are less distinct than they should be.  The air and the light around us will take on an eerie tone and perhaps even the wildlife might be briefly fooled into thinking that dusk is approaching.

As the new moon, nearly directly between the sun and Earth, begins moving in front of the bright sun on this late summer day, we will be starting the first total eclipse of the sun to span the entire continental United States from west to east in many decades.  For many in a 70-mile-wide path - in or near the cities of Portland OR, Cheyenne,WY, Lincoln NE, Kansas City MO, St. Louis MO, Knoxville TN, Atlanta GA and down toward Myrtle Beach SC - the sun will be precisely and completely covered, or TOTAL where daylight will appear to turn into night time at high noon.  Nocturnal animals will come out, the air cools down more than 15 degrees and the stars shine brightly overhead at mid-day.  The map below shows the times of mid-eclipse for points across the USA.

  time  [Map of the Line of Totality - times U.S. Naval Observatory

But that totality will last only less than two minutes total and suddenly the world will spring back into full daylight once more!  Those who might wish to venture into Missouri will have longer totality times - well over two minutes.  Be warned however!  Every single lodge, motel room, bed and breakfast and campsite along the eclipse path is booked and is standing room only.  In fact, tens of millions of people will migrate from all across the world to witness this eclipse and ANY town or resort, park or gravel road within its path will be packed with people for one week prior to the event.  If you do not have plans nor reservations to move into the eclipse path (see the USA map here), you will likely not even be able to drive into any location without a road block the day before the eclipse.

For those who cannot or chose not to travel, do not despair.....the eclipse on either side of the 70-mile-wide totality strip is spectacular although not as dark and amazing.  Here in Arkansas - as well as in locations across the United States 250 miles either north or south of the totality path, we will witness over 90 percent of the sun's surface obscured by the moon as it slowly creep across the disk of the sun, moving from west to east.  The entire event will last from 11:46 a.m. until 2:45 p.m. CDT from central Arkansas, the first event being a tiny "bite" out of the sun's western edge and progressing to an almost completely obscured sun.  The sky will definitely grow darker and the landscape will appear somewhat alien by mid-eclipse at 1:16 p.m.  The composite photograph below, courtesy AmericanEclipseUSA.com, demonstrates almost exactly what will be seen from most locations within 250 miles of the main eclipse path.  NOTE that from Arkansas and locations geographically similar to the eclipse line will experience coverage of better than 90%.

Partial 90  [Courtesy americaneclipseusa.com]

Viewing the Eclipse

NEVER look at the sun - eclipsed or not - without eye protection and never look directly at the sun nor aim your expensive camera at it during an eclipse!
There are only a few ways that you can safely view the solar eclipse without damage to eye or camera:  1) the pin-hole projector; 2) indirect images; and 3) using a properly filter solar telescope.

Arkansas Sky Observatories, in cooperation with Arkansas State Parks Petit Jean State Parks will offer telescopic SAFE viewing of the sun on the morning of Monday, August 21 at the camping overflow area near Lake Bailey on Petit Jean Mountain in Arkansas.  Telescopes will allow viewers to see an actual image of the sun with sunspots and the moon as it progresses across the sun's surface.  Interpreters and ASO personnel will be on hand to assist in pin-hole projection methods and other safe ways for visitors to safely view this eclipse.

pinhole projection method  [pinhole projector - courtesy solareclipse2015.org.uk]

A pin-hole project is simple and easy:  poke a tiny pinhole in one piece of thin, but sturdy cardboard and have another white cardboard serve as a projection screen; hold both up to the sun, where the one with the pinhole is directed at the sun, and casting a dark shadow on the white one....the tiny hole will allow a true photographic image of the sun and its eclipsed shape to be projected onto the white screen.  Safe and easy.

Another method to watch the progress of the eclipse is simply to look on the ground for tiny "sunbeams" of light coming from between leaves of vegetation.  In the shady areas, you will see hundreds of small light spots, many of which will actually project true images of the eclipsed sun so that the various stages of eclipse can be easily seen and photographed.

Coming Attraction!

This eclipse in 2017 will serve as a terrific practice run to get Arkansas ready for the Great Eclipse of 2024; on April 8, 2024 when a TOTAL eclipse of the sun - the first in many centuries and the only on in our lifetimes - will pass right through Arkansas, over Morrilton, Blackwell, Hot Springs and Petit Jean Mountain.  In that year, the state of Arkansas can expect an influx of tens of millions of people from throughout the world to see one of the longest total eclipses on record.  Stay tuned....we are saving the best for last!  Make your reservations today!
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