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the occasions lady and

the great american eclipse
by Audrey Poff, illustration by Brittney Guest

It’s time to purchase a pair of solar viewing glasses and map out your destination. There’s a once-in-a-lifetime event happening this month, but to make the most of the experience, you’ll need to prepare.

On Aug. 21, the U.S. will experience a total solar eclipse, but not all parts of the country will be in the band of totality. For that reason, if Jonesboro residents want to be totally in the dark, they will need to make a short drive. Experts say the total eclipse will only be visible along the moon’s central shadow, which will create a 70-mile wide path of darkness from the country’s West Coast to the East Coast. In the surrounding areas, which include all of the U.S. mainland and Canada, the total eclipse will be a partial solar eclipse.

Total solar eclipses occur when the moon comes between the sun and Earth, casting the darkest part of its shadow, the umbra, on Earth. During a total eclipse of the sun, the moon covers the entire disk of the sun. A full solar eclipse, known as totality, is nearly as dark as night.
It’s been 38 years since the continental U.S. has been in the shadow of a total solar eclipse. The last time anyone in the mainland U.S. saw a total eclipse of the sun was on Feb. 26, 1979. To put that timeframe in perspective, Jimmy Carter was president, Sony introduced its cool new portable cassette player called the Walkman that year and I was a 13-year-old junior high school student.

Experts say while total solar eclipses are not all that rare (occurring twice every three years on average), a total eclipse of the sun than can be seen from the American West Coast to the American East Coast occurs much less frequently. The last time a total solar eclipse was visible from coast to coast in the U.S. was nearly 100 years ago on June 8, 1918. Another interesting fact: No other country will see totality during the upcoming event, though many countries will see a partial eclipse of the sun. For these reasons, the eclipse is being called the Great American Eclipse.

Experts say the first location in the Continental U.S. to see the eclipse will be Lincoln City, Ore., at 9:04 a.m. local time. Following Oregon, the eclipse will move through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and South Carolina. People in Charleston, S.C., will be the last ones in the U.S. to see the eclipse.

Being in the path of totality will allow viewers to see spectacular aspects not visible to those viewing a partial eclipse. However, Jonesboro residents who are unable to make the journey will still be in the best part of the state for viewing this once-in-a-lifetime event. According to Arkansassky.com, Northeast Arkansas will have the deepest eclipse in the state with more than 95 percent of the sun being covered by the moon. Locally, the eclipse will begin at 11:51 a.m., reach its maximum coverage of 95.4 percent at 1:21 p.m. and end at 2:48 p.m.

Solar viewing glasses and eclipse books have already made their way to Jonesboro, and solar eclipse T-shirts are readily available on the Internet. This is going to be big across America, it’s going to be brief (approximately two minutes of totality) and it’s going to be fun. You’re going to want to be prepared. Where will you be when the U.S. goes dark on Aug. 21?

For more information on the Great American Eclipse, visit NASA’s website at eclipse2017.nasa.gov or arkansassky.com/2017-arkansas-solar-eclipse.