Thousands of people around the country had their eyes on the sky Monday afternoon to watch the first solar eclipse in 38 years.

Local viewers experienced an 88 percent partial eclipse, with many attending viewing events such as one held at the Van Buren Public Library.

Several hundred people lined up at the VBPL at noon on Monday to receive eclipse viewing glasses and take part in the watch party. Library staff were expecting a large crowd, said Crawford County Library System Director Eva White.

“Four weeks ago we weren’t expecting it, but we’ve had calls and calls about glasses,” White said.

Each of the five libraries in the CCLS received 1,000 viewing glasses to hand out to the public, and every one of them had been given away by about 12:30 on Monday, White said.

“We gave out 5,000 glasses,” White said.

People traveled from other areas to get glasses and attend the event, said Van Buren Public Library Branch Director Danalene Porter.

“People have driven from Ozark, Magazine, Sallisaw - everywhere,” Porter said.

CCLS provided information on the eclipse and free sno cones, and Arvest Bank volunteers gave out hot dogs, chips and water sponsored by the bank.

A NASA live feed of the eclipse was being projected inside the library for people who wanted stay cool or were unable to obtain glasses to watch the event.

According to NASA.gov, the solar eclipse was visible in the local area from about 11:43 a.m. to 2:41 p.m., with peak totality occurring at about 1:13 p.m.

Watch parties were planned around the state and country.

NASA.gov reports that the last time most Americans experienced a total solar eclipse was 1979.

This year, an estimated 500 million people were able to observe the solar eclipse in partial or total form: 391 million in the U.S., 35 million in Canada, and 119 million in Mexico.

Solar eclipses happen when the moon moves between Earth and the sun and the three line up close to the line of nodes, which represents the intersection of the orbital planes of the moon and Earth.

When the moon eclipses the sun, it produces the umbral shadow, the relatively small area where an observer can see a total eclipse, and the penumbral shadow, the larger area of a partial eclipse.

The next solar eclipse, viewable in the United States, is expected to take place on Monday, April 8, 2024.