Skywatchers across Minnesota gear up to view the solar eclipse

Published 6:04 am Monday, April 8, 2024

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A total solar eclipse will be visible across a swath of the U.S. on Monday afternoon.

Minnesota is not in the path of totality, which is the line of locations where the moon will line up perfectly to block the sun completely. However, a roughly 75 percent partial eclipse will be visible in Minnesota, so people here will still be able to witness the spectacle.

The eclipse will start around 1 p.m. Central Time, peak around 2 p.m. and end by 3:10 to 3:15 p.m. Find the exact timing of the eclipse in your area on Unfortunately skies look mostly cloudy across the state for the eclipse, as a storm system is spreading rain and potentially a few snowflakes across the state.

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Farther south, in the path of totality, the weather looks ideal for eclipse viewing in Missouri, Illinois and western Indiana.

A total solar eclipse has not happened in the contiguous U.S. since 2017 and, before that, 1979. The next one visible in the U.S. will be Aug. 23, 2044, although total solar eclipses will happen in other parts of the world before then.

Check back for photos and reactions to the eclipse in Minnesota.

How to watch the eclipse safely

It is dangerous to look directly at the sun during an eclipse or at any other time.

Even a quick glance directly at the sun can cause retina damage, including blurry vision and blind spots, according to Dr. Sandra Montezuma at the University of Minnesota’s Medical School.

“The injury is similar to thermal burns caused by a laser and harms the cells in the eye that help you see,” Montezuma said.

As little as a few seconds of looking at the sun can damage the eyes. Regular sunglasses do not provide sufficient protection. Neither does a camera lens, telescope or binoculars.

There are still ways to witness the eclipse. Here are two of them:

  1. Purchase a solar filter or a pair of safety eclipse-viewing glasses or goggles. It’s important that the goggles are approved by the American Astronomical Society, are not scratched or damaged and are labeled with the tag ISO 12312-2.
  2. Use a pinhole projector to view the eclipse indirectly with the sun at your back.

What does a partial eclipse look like?

“Partials are interesting,” said longtime University of Wisconsin-La Crosse planetarium director Bob Allen. “It’s like getting in an airplane with a parachute and one person jumping out and the other staying in the plane and saying ‘I’m not gonna do it.’ It’s a different thrill.”

A partial solar eclipse creates a crescent shape with the sun partly covered.

An eclipse in any form is still “the most unearthly experience you can have on the earth,” he said.

According to The Planetary Society, “Although partial solar eclipses don’t cause the same level of darkness, those partial eclipses where the Sun is more than half-obscured will create dimmer light that can affect some animals’ behavior. You might hear birds stop singing or crickets chirping.”

Watch parties across Minnesota on Monday

  • The Bell Museum in St. Paul is hosting a watch party from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Outdoor activities are free but the museum is charging standard admission for indoor activities. It was no longer selling glasses as of Friday but said a limited quantity will be available for free at the event. It will also livestream the eclipse.
  • The Science Museum of Minnesota in St. Paul is hosting an event from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Museum admission is $19.95 for kids and $29.95 for adults.
  • Bethel University has a free viewing event from 12:45 to 3:15 p.m. on the lawn next to Benson Great Hall in St. Paul.
  • Sibley State Park in Willmar will have a free event with experts on hand and a kids craft available from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. All vehicles entering Minnesota state parks must have a permit, which is $7 for one day or $35 for a year.
  • Wild River State Park in Center City will have a free event with a safe telescope and glasses from 1 to 3 p.m.
  • Minneopa State Park in Mankato will have a free event with naturalists available to answer questions and an all-ages craft from 12:30 to 3 p.m.
  • Winona State University is hosting a free, public viewing event from 12:30 to 3:30 p.m. on the lawn with eclipse glasses, special solar telescopes and pinhole projectors available. The school is also livestreaming the eclipse in the Science Lab Center’s atrium.

Schools preparing for eclipse

Minnesota teachers have been preparing their classes for the solar eclipse. Science instructors have been purchasing eclipse glasses, teaching students to make pinhole projectors and crafting lessons about the solar system in preparation for the celestial event.

Jill Jensen teaches science at Scott Highlands Middle School in Apple Valley and has been preparing since September to make sure her students can view the eclipse.

“It doesn’t happen very often, and space is one of those topics that’s really abstract to get students to wrap their heads around. But to actually see it is a whole other experience,” Jensen said.

In Barnum, students are sharing cultural stories about eclipses that range from the lighthearted to the “quite scary” and planning art projects, shadow tracing and a viewing party.

In St. Cloud, at Apollo High School, teachers are recording plant and animal behavior before, during and after the eclipse to better understand how other species are affected by changes in sunlight.

In Duluth, at Starbase — a nonprofit focused on teaching STEM — instructors have purchased eclipse glasses and are planning to take students outside to make observations and view the eclipse on Monday.

“You are watching the moon move in front of the sun,” said Jensen, who is also president of the Minnesota Science Teachers Association. “It just gives you the perspective of our place in the universe that you don’t get in any other instance.”

Minnesota college students head to Indiana for eclipse project

A coalition of Minnesota college students are part of a national project for the solar eclipse in Indiana. This includes students from St. Cloud State University, the University of Minnesota, St. Catherine University and Fond Du Lac Tribal and Community College.

They will launch weather balloons to gather data about how the atmosphere changes during an eclipse as part of the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project.

“The Minnesota team is actually special in that we’re the only all-women student team, which is cool,” St. Cloud State Planetarium Director and atmospheric science professor Rachel Humphrey told MPR News host Cathy Wurzer last week.

The project is sending balloons into the stratosphere to collect data on temperature, pressure, wind speed, direction and more.

“We have a pretty good understanding as scientists that the sun is pretty important for driving a lot of our weather, and we have a great opportunity to see what happens to the atmosphere when something big blocks out the sun for a little bit of time,” Humphrey said.

Hundreds of students will be station at the project’s launch site in Indiana.

If you are unable to view the eclipse from where you are or want to follow along as it makes its way across the country, NASA will be broadcasting a live event.