During a total eclipse, the corona — the outermost part of the sun’s atmosphere — can be seen surrounding the eclipsed sun.

On April 8, we will have front-row seats to the most amazing celestial event, a total solar eclipse. There have only been three total eclipses in the United States in my lifetime. I had the good fortune to witness the last one in 2017 from Missouri, and I was even luckier to be in the path of totality. My good fortune will repeat itself this year, and likely I will not have this chance again until Aug. 12, 2045, when the next total eclipse of the sun will be viewable from Arkansas. Note that I am an optimist and believe that I will still be here to see it.

Courtesy of GSFC/ NASA/ DiscoverMagazine.com

This eclipse will be special for many reasons. First, the moon’s orbit is relatively close to Earth, yielding an eclipse that will be nearly 4.5 minutes long, the longest in the U.S. since 1806. It will also occur near solar maximum, which will make the sun’s corona (the outermost portion of the sun’s atmosphere that can only be seen during a total eclipse) a brilliant sunflower-shaped light around the darkness of the moon. This eclipse will also be the darkest total eclipse in the U.S. for the next 217 years. The magnitude will be significant enough to reveal Venus and Jupiter, and there is even a slight chance that it will reveal a comet, know as the “Devil Comet,” as well. Given the path, it will also be the most-watched eclipse ever in North America. Now, all we need to hope for are clear skies on April 8, so we truly get to witness the full spectacular display.

The book of Genesis (1:3,14) states, “And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light. … ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night, and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days and years.’” People have stared at the heavens for millennia and wondered about the amazing universe that we live in. President Abraham Lincoln said, “I never behold them (the heavens filled with stars) that I do not feel I am looking in the face of God.” I share this awe, which was most powerful in my life in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean — on a dark night on the bridge of a submarine with no light for thousands of miles — just witnessing the canopy of the stars above me.

The very existence of a total solar eclipse is a wonder of the complexity and mathematical precision of our universe. The sun is 400 times the diameter of the moon, while also sitting about 400 times further from Earth, so the two appear the same size in the sky. Mark Littmann puts it into perspective in the book “Totality,” in which he states, “If the moon was just 169 miles smaller in diameter, or it were further away, people would never see the kind of total eclipse that will cross the Americas in April.”

The ancient Chinese were able to predict solar eclipses as early as 2500 B.C. and believed that failing to predict one would put the emperor’s life in danger; legend has it that two ancient astronomers, Hsi and Ho, were executed for failing to predict one. In 585 B.C., the Greek historian Herodotus wrote that a solar eclipse darkened the skies and stopped a war between the Lydians and the Medes.

Solar eclipses have also had significance in scientific discoveries. For example, helium was discovered in 1868 by French astrophysicist Pierre Jules César Janssen, when he traveled to Guntur, India, to view a total eclipse with his spectroscope (like passing light through a prism and separating it into the colors of the rainbow). He noticed bright yellow lines that indicated a previously unknown element (there were only 27 known at the time). This element was named helium after helios, the Greek word for sun.

Wearing special glasses is necessary for viewing the solar eclipse safely. Courtesy of Arkansas Department of Parks, Heritage and Tourism

A solar eclipse was also used to prove Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. According to Einstein, large masses cause space to curve and that light passing near the sun would be bent by the gravity of the sun. During the solar eclipse of 1919, English astronomer Frank Dyson traveled to Africa to test this theory. During the eclipse, light from stars would be visible, and if the theory was correct, they should be bent, making the stars appear out of position. The theory was proved correct, and this catapulted Einstein to worldwide fame. Scientists from all over the world will also be traveling to conduct experiments during this eclipse.

So, what does the solar eclipse have to do with the Electric Cooperatives of Arkansas? Well, we are planning for it to have no impact at all, other than being an amazing historical astronomical event. The solar eclipse will impact electric generation from solar resources, and we are prepared for that event. The most significant impacts will be in Texas, where it will occur between 12:10 p.m. and 3:10 p.m., covering a large portion of the state. Solar generation will be reduced to about 8% of its total output. Texas has a lot of solar, about 23 gigawatts (GW), which is 23,000,000 kilowatts or kW. During the eclipse, this will be reduced to about 1.8 GW, and the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) plans to have a lot of other power generation resources ready to go when the eclipse occurs to make up that difference.

Safety is a key Core Value for the cooperatives, and I hope that you have acquired some eclipse viewing glasses to witness this awesome event. So, put on Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark,” wear your viewing glasses, so that you don’t fall victim to Manfred Mann’s “Blinded by the Light,” and watch for Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” as you view the solar corona and enjoy this amazing celestial event.