Community gears up for rare celestial event

Schools throughout Faulkner County are taking advantage of the upcoming astronomical phenomenon on Monday and using it as a teaching experience for its students.

 

Parts of Arkansas will experience different views of the solar eclipse — where the moon covers part of the sun — with Conway residents and close others being able to see a partial eclipse.

“The event presents a unique and exciting opportunity for students to see a natural phenomenon that brings together many of the math, science and history concepts taught throughout the year,” a letter sent from Conway Public Schools to parents Aug. 15, reads.

Communication Specialist Heather Kendrick said the district ordered the special eclipse viewing glasses for the secondary schools to use, but have opted to have the elementary students watch NASA’s live feed of the event due to safety concerns.

While the eclipse will be a rare display that Conway wants all of its students to experience, the letter states that the district also had to consider the risks involved and follow safety procedures to ensure the safety of all its students.

The letter continues and states that administrators found the risks of potential optical damage far too great and professionals are clear about how quickly eye damage can happen and they cannot take the chance of that happening with their students.

According to the American Astronomical Society and the National Science Foundation’s website, looking directly at the sun is unsafe except when the moon blocks the sun’s face entirely, the brief total phase of a solar eclipse, and the only safe way to look at the phenomenon is through special purposed solar filters — only unscratched, unpunctured and untorn ISO 12312-2 safety standard compliant glasses will do — like the eclipse glasses that have been selling like crazy, handheld solar viewers and pinhole projection.

“They’re really excited to get this first-hand learning for the students,” Kendrick said. “It’s a neat lesson to incorporate.”

Superintendent Scott Spainhour said Greenbrier schools are also participating in the event — a “great learning opportunity” — but students have to have permission slips to be able to go outside and view the eclipse with the glasses that the district ordered.

He said administration at each school is also planning to limit student transitions during the peak times so students “wont be tempted to look up.”

“It’s been very exciting,” Spainhour said. “People are talking about it and looking forward to it.”

In addition to the local schools prepping for the rare occurrence — St. Joseph, Conway Christian, Vilonia all said students will be viewing it in some way — the colleges in Conway are also jumping at the chance to experience the astronomical event.

The University of Central Arkansas is hosting a “Total Solar Eclipse” event starting at 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on the McAlister Lawn. The university had previously purchased purple customized glasses, but learned of a recall Friday for those glasses that were to be distributed Aug. 21.

For people who have already received a pair of the purple glasses, UCA officials urge those participants to not use them and return the recalled glasses to Wingo Hall 113.

“We will still have a limited amount of of NASA-approved glasses at the lunch at McAlister Hall on Monday that can be shared by those that want a glimpse of the eclipse,” officials said.

The UCA Alumni Association and the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics are also hosting a “Night Under the Stars” event starting at 5 p.m. in the Dr. Edmond E. Griffin Planetarium, which will show condensed NASA footage from the eclipse that morning, but at 6:15 p.m., and an additional show at 7 p.m., guests will be able to view the premiere of the planetarium’s public fall show, “The Edge of Darkness.”

Tickets are $10.

Central Baptist College and Hendrix College are also getting involved and have planned events for students.

CBC is taking several of its science classes out if they have glasses and Hendrix will have a gathering in the brick pit at the center of campus.

Communications Director Amy Forbus said there will be eclipse glasses for safe viewing, telescopes with solar filters, pinhole cameras made with the college’s 3D printer and access to NASA’s live feed.

The Faulkner County Library is also hosting an eclipse watch party at 11:30 a.m. and encourage those interested to bring a brown bag lunch and eclipse glasses, but will also have some available at the library as well.

ERA Team Real Estate — located at 1600 Dave Ward Dr. Suite A-7 — is using its watch party, 11 a.m.-1:30 p.m., to benefit the Muscular Dystrophy Association and encourage donations of any size to meet their personal goal. Centennial Bank will be grilling free food.

“We have eclipse glasses and will enjoy watching together all while helping us meet our goal of sending a child to MDA summer camp,” the Facebook event states.

According to NASA’s website, most Americans haven’t experienced a total solar eclipse since 1991 and this year, around 500 million will be able to observe this go around.

“This is a golden opportunity to observe one of nature’s most exciting splendors and to engage and educate diverse audiences in the U.S. and internationally, using a backdrop of this amazing celestial event couples with NASA unique assets,” the website states.

To learn more about the natural event, visit eclipse2017.nasa.gov/eclipse-101 or eclipse.aas.org/eye-safety for safety tips.

 

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