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Things I learned before and after viewing 2017 eclipse

Deacon Jason Pohlmeier offers tips to prepare for Arkansas’ total solar eclipse

Published: March 27, 2024   
Andrew Dean (from left), Dominic Pohlmeier, Callum Dean, Jason Pohlmeier, Clare Pohlmeier and Isaac Pohlmeier, all from St. Joseph School in Fayetteville, watch the total eclipse in Jefferson City, Mo. Aug. 21, 2017. (Jeff Dean)

Follow these tips to have a safe and enjoyable total solar eclipse. I have gathered these tips before and after seeing the total solar eclipse in Missouri Aug. 21, 2017.

  • Travel to the path of totality: The difference between a total eclipse and a partial eclipse is enormous. When the sun is 100 percent covered, the sky is more than 10,000 times darker than when the sun is 99 percent covered, according to the late Dr. Jay Pasachoff, former chair of the International Astronomical Union’s Working Group on Solar Eclipses. More amazing things happen in totality, that don’t happen outside the path, than can be listed here. Most people in Arkansas already live in the path. If not, it’s worth the trip.
  • Plan for traffic: has created a map showing the shortest drive to the path of totality for the U.S. Arkansas is the closest place to view the eclipse for residents of 16 states. The Arkansas Department of Transportation is preparing for 70,000 to 280,000 extra travelers that day. Arrive early, even the day before, if you can. Wait as long as you can after it ends to head home. 
  • Get glasses soon: To avoid eye damage, everyone must wear special eclipse glasses at all times except for the few minutes of totality. The International Organization for Standardization certifies eclipse glasses, so be sure yours are labeled with the “ISO 12312-2” certification. If you are not in the path of totality, you must wear them the entire time. They will be hard to find as April 8 gets closer. To test them out for damage, put them on and look directly at your car’s headlights. No light should come through.  
  • Download Solar Eclipse Timer App: This app will pinpoint your exact GPS location and walk you through the phases of the eclipse in real-time. It will tell you to the second when to put on your glasses, when to take them off, and when to look for interesting things. The app is free to download, but it costs $1.99 to download the data for each specific eclipse.
  • Record your reaction: Set up a video camera on a tripod, point it at yourself (or your group) and hit record about five minutes before totality begins. Reactions to a total eclipse are spontaneous, unexpected and joyful. Let yourself be wrapped up in the moment, and relive it later. 
  • Amateurs should not photograph it: It’s tempting to get a shot yourself, but unless you have a professional camera and several additional pieces of special equipment, your photo will be underwhelming. Plus you will have wasted time you could have been enjoying the spectacle. 
  • Try pinhole projection: Poking a tiny pinhole through paper or foil can allow an interesting shadow version of the eclipse to appear on the other side. Try viewing the shadow of a colander and you will see the same thing. Use a hole punch to clip your name into a piece of construction paper. Any small, round hole will do. Just remember, do not look through the holes. Look only at the shadows for safety.
  • Look for shadow bands: Lay a white sheet on the ground near your viewing area. In the minutes before and after totality, the sun’s light bends through the atmosphere in such a strange way that wiggly shadows will appear on the ground, like hundreds of crawling snakes. The Solar Eclipse TImer App will remind you to look for them. 


Deacon Jason Pohlmeier is the principal of St. Joseph School in Fayetteville.

Read more in our 2024 Solar Eclipse section here.

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