Arkansans Share Memories Of Previous Eclipses, Impact This Is Expected To Have

Aug 20, 2017

Credit NASA

Tales of viewing solar eclipses are passed down through the generations. In Arkansas they have made their way into family histories and narratives of identity, even for those who were too young to understand it. That has helped build the anticipation about Monday's rare eclipse.

“One of my grandmothers saw that eclipse in 1918, and she was 13 years old, and she lived to be 86, and she still talked about that eclipse," said Dr. James Kennon, a professor of Science Education for Arkansas State University. "They lived on a little farm; they didn’t know what it was, they were scared, and their dad came in from the field and he knew what it was." 

Several decades ago Kennon sought out his own solar eclipse, to experience what his grandmother saw in Arkansas.

"I had the opportunity back in 1991 to see one from the big island of Hawaii, and I think it's one of those things that if you have a bucket list, it should be on your bucket list to see in your lifetime, at least one."

Dr. Miles Blanton, an instructor of physics and astronomy at University of Arkansas at Little Rock, tells a similar story of seeing a partial eclipse in his childhood.

“I was just home that week because I had chicken pox, this was like kindergarten, and I was five or six years old," Blanton says. "I remember my mom telling me something about there being an eclipse, and not to look at the eclipse, and of course I remember going out and looking up. I seem to recall it got so dark.”

Blanton says eclipses are markers of time, and of change, and this eclipse is going to be a big one. It will also likely be a record holder, says Darrell Heath, a board member and ex-president of the Central Arkansas Astronomical Society.

"There’s like 12 million people living in the path of totality, and there's about 200 million people within a day's drive. So even if four percent of those 200 million people decide to show up in the path of totality that day, you can count on traffic being a living breathing nightmare," says Heath. "Because we are a highly populated country, we have access to the internet and social media, live streaming, this will probably be the most viewed eclipse in human history."

Heath says it's not necessarily a scientifically significant event, "but that doesn't diminish its human monumental experience experientially. It's a pretty monumental thing to be in the middle of the day and it to go completely dark."

Blanton says solar eclipses bring people together for communal excitement about our universe, which is hard to come by.

"When you see the night sky, you sort of get the impression that it's permanent. At a given moment it's hard to see things changing, because very little in the sky changes, you know, just looking at your watch,” he says. “And that’s the cool thing about eclipses, it's a dramatic change in four minutes."

Arkansas will see a partial eclipse, ranging from about 80 to 97 percent coverage of the sun. Near totality, where the moon fully covers the sun, will cause unusual events, Heath says."

"The temperature is going to drop, animals are going to start behaving differently, birds are going to start to roost, nighttime insects will start to call. Pay attention to people around you, total solar eclipses have very strong effects on people. Some will just get really hushed, some will get really excited, others will break down and start crying," Health says.

Dr. Kennon recommends taking some time to enjoy the spectacle of the eclipse from wherever you are, with family and friends.

"If you think about it, most of the things that are significant events are bad things that happen, but this is one of those good things," Kennon says. "It’s kind of like when I was a kid and Neil Armstrong stepping on the moon, that was a significant event for me, and to me an eclipse is right up there with that."

Astronomers remind the public that solar-filtered lenses are necessary to view the phenomenon otherwise permanent damage can occur to vision.