NEARK Awaits Solar Eclipse

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Northeast Arkansas, and the entire United States including Alaska and Hawaii, will be treated to one of the most spectacular astronomical events in history this Monday, Aug. 21. About 1:20 p.m. a solar eclipse will darken the skies and lands of Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri. Meanwhile, it will be as dark as night along a 70-mile wide path from Oregon to South Carolina.

First, a warningódo not look at the sun unless you have proper protection for your eyes. It's only safe within the two-minutes of total eclipse which will occur north of here. The eclipse here will not be total.

The sun is about 400 times further away than the moon, but it is about 400 times bigger. This is the apparent size of the two discs, actually about 64 million moons would fit inside the sun. The orbit of the moon is about five degrees off from where the sun moves across the sky-or the ecliptic, where the sun appears to move due to the earth's orbit around the sun. So, when the moon passes by the sun during each orbit it's usually a little above or below it. But, when those two orbits cross a shadow of the moon is cast on the surface of the earth.

On Monday, Aug. 21, that shadow will hit the earth directly while North America is facing the sun.

The moon will fully cover the sun in the area where the eclipse is total, while others such as our area will experience a partial eclipse. Here in Northeast Arkansas and Southeast Missouri about 95 to 98 percent of the sun will be covered.

This is expected to make the sky much darker, and may drop the temperature by as much as 10 degrees. The eclipse will be noticeable even if it is cloudy, if it is clear the sun will only appear as a thin crescent.

However, that crescent will still have a lot of infrared heat light, which can easily damage unprotected eyes.

To view the event safely the public is reminded to wear glasses designed for viewing the sun directly, and a lot of them have been distributed by various agencies. Or, you can make a simple box viewer. To do this, punch a hole in one side of a box with a safety pin, put a piece of paper at the other end, and direct the pin hole at the sun. A disc image of the sun should be projected on the paper. This will show the moon in various stages of passing in front of the sun, with the very thin crescent to reach the maximum around 1:20 p.m.

Although a total eclipse occurs on average only once in every 300 years at any one point on earth, the next eclipse will be April 8, 2024, and the eclipse will be total here in the Piggott area.

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