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Moon magic: Museum celebrates lunar eclipse, all things astronomy this weekend

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The planetarium at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum
The planetarium at the University of Minnesota's Bell Museum in Falcon Heights.
Courtesy of the Bell Museum | Chris Gaffer

The University of Minnesota's Bell Museum is planning a year of activities celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo moon landing — and it kicks off this weekend with a treat for nighttime skywatchers.

The museum in Falcon Heights will host a "Space Fest" celebration on Saturday and Sunday — followed by a Sunday night party to watch a lunar eclipse that will be visible across Minnesota and the rest of North America.

A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through Earth's shadow. The partial eclipse begins at about 9:30 p.m., with the total eclipse lasting from about 10:41 p.m. to 11:43 p.m. Sunday, turning the moon a reddish-orange color. 

"The cool thing about this particular lunar eclipse is that our moon will be what's called a 'super moon,' which means that the moon is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit, and so it makes it look a little bit bigger," said Holly Menninger, director of public engagement and science learning at the museum.

There will be telescopes available outside at the museum from 8:30 p.m. to midnight Sunday.

The moon is seen over the Duluth hillside during a lunar eclipse
The moon is seen over the Duluth hillside during a lunar eclipse in October 2014.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News 2014

Depending on cloud cover, you'll be able to see the eclipse from anywhere in Minnesota. It will be visible to the naked eye, just as the moon is — though telescopes can offer a better view.

Unlike a solar eclipse, there's no need to protect your eyes while viewing a lunar eclipse. The eclipse also is a great time for stargazing; as the moon's brightness is dimmed, stars in the sky can become easier to see.

Earlier in the weekend, the Space Fest celebration, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, will feature experts in a variety of space-related topics and hands-on activities.

"Throughout the weekend, visitors can come in and they'll be able to see some real NASA artifacts — things that we've been able to borrow from NASA — and get up close and actually touch," Menninger said. "Visitors can participate in a series of astronaut challenges where they can kind of learn how to manipulate objects in space like an astronaut might."

Menninger said other community organizations will be on hand, including representatives from the Ramsey County Libraries to talk about space and astronomy books for kids.

"If you have a passion for space or even a curiosity, I think everyone will find something exciting and fun to do," she said.

The daytime Space Fest events are free with a gallery ticket, while planetarium tickets are extra; find more ticket information here. The eclipse-watching party is free but may be affected by weather; if skies are overcast, there will be a shortened event. Check the museum website for updates.

Beyond this weekend, there will be several months of special events at the museum for its "Year of Apollo" 50th anniversary observance. A new exhibit — a large art installation called "Museum of the Moon" — will open in May, and a new planetarium show called "One Giant Leap" will debut in June. Find more details here.