Are you ready for the big event? Arkansans will be able to see a solar eclipse on Mon. Aug. 21 during the midday hours. Be sure you know how to watch it without damaging your eyes.

Safe viewing of the pre-eclipse, partial eclipse and post-eclipse phases must be done with special protective glasses or a hand-held solar viewer. Looking at any phase of the eclipse without protection can seriously damage your eyes.

A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the sun and the earth, blocking out all of the sun’s light and casting a shadow on the surface of the earth. It will get much darker outside as a result. A total eclipse allows us to see the sun’s atmosphere, called the corona. The last solar eclipse that could be seen in Arkansas and across the United States was in 1918.

When to watch

The shadow of the eclipse will move across the United States, lasting about three hours, from start to when normal light returns. In Arkansas, it will begin about 11:45 a.m., the sun will be almost covered between about 1-1:30 p.m., and normal light will return about 2:45 p.m.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) says a total eclipse will be visible within a 70-mile-wide path that runs diagonally across the United States, from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston, South Carolina. The brief total eclipse (up to 2 and 1/2 minutes) will turn day into night. The otherwise hidden corona of the sun – the sun’s outer atmosphere – will be visible during the total eclipse phase, as will bright stars and planets.

Provided there are clear skies in Arkansas, we should be able to see 90 to 95 percent of the eclipse. A partial eclipse means a small portion of the sun will still be visible. Only a partial eclipse will be visible in Arkansas on Aug. 21. The closest place to see a total eclipse is the southeastern corner of Missouri, at Sikeston or Cape Girardeau, both near U.S. Interstate 55. That area is included in the 70-mile wide swath of total eclipse.

Safety first

The only safe way to view the eclipse is with special glasses that filter out 100 percent of ultraviolet and infrared rays. Damage is usually painless so people will not realize they’ve had eye damage.

Do not use sunglasses, smoked glass, unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars, regular welding hoods or lesser quality viewing glasses that do not block out 100 percent of harmful rays. These methods will not provide eye protection. Keep filtered glasses on throughout the viewing period. Monitor children to be sure their safety glasses are kept in place. The risk of eye damage is higher with younger viewers.

The damage to your eyes happens when looking at the partially eclipsed sun. During the total eclipse phase, when it suddenly gets quite dark, you can look at the sun without eye damage. However, in Arkansas, viewers should keep their safety glasses on throughout the waxing and waning of the eclipse. This is the highest-risk period for eye damage.

NASA has certified five manufacturers of glasses and hand-help viewers that meet the ISO 12312-2 international standard for these products: American Paper Optics, Baader Planetarium’s AstroSolar Silver/Gold film only, Rainbow Symphony, Thousand Oaks Optical and TSE 17. NASA-approved glasses will:

  • Have ISO 12312-2 international standard printed on them
  • Have the manufacturer’s name and address printed on the product

Viewing products should be free from cracks, scratches or wrinkles in the lenses. Discard if they have any of this damage or are more than three years old.

How to watch

According to NASA, here’s how to safely view the eclipse with protective glasses or a hand-help viewer:

  • Stand still and cover your eyes with your protective eyewear before looking up at the sun. Never remove your protective gear while looking at the sun. Turn your back to the sun before you remove protective eyewear.
  • Do not look through any other device (unfiltered camera, telescope, binoculars or any other optical device) with your protective eyewear. The concentrated solar rays will damage the filter and cause very serious eye damage.
  • Do not stare continuously at the sun, no matter what safe-viewing technique you use. Take breaks to give your eyes a rest.
  • NASA offers this alternative and fun way to safely view the partially eclipsed sun without protective glasses. Turn your back to the sun. Criss-cross your outstretched hand, with slightly open fingers, over the slightly open fingers of the other hand, forming a grid. Look at your hands’ shadow on the ground. The little spaces between your fingers will project a larger grid of small images on the ground. It will show the sun as a crescent during the partial phases of the eclipse.

The next solar eclipses in 2024 and 2045 should be even better viewing and most of northern Arkansas will see a total eclipse.

For more information, visit NASA’s eclipse website. Click on the Citizen Science and Education icons to learn about ways you can help NASA gather information about the sun during the eclipse. For example, many animals show a change in behavior when a solar eclipse is in progress – birds go to sleep, and cats and dogs act confused or apprehensive.

Enjoy the eclipse, but do it safely.