Solar eclipse excites Minnesota despite clouds across much of state

A person attempt to see the solar eclipse
Ben Weiers, 13 left, and Abe Weiers, 12, attempt to see the solar eclipse through the clouds during a solar eclipse watch party Monday at the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium at the University of Minnesota Duluth campus. Due to the the weather, many observers watched the eclipse through a livestream display inside.
Erica Dischino for MPR News

Updated: 7:55 p.m.

A solar eclipse was visible across a swath of the U.S. on Monday afternoon.

Minnesota was not in the path of totality, which is the line of locations where the moon lines up perfectly to block the sun completely. However, a roughly 75 percent partial eclipse was visible in Minnesota, so people here were able to witness the spectacle — if their area’s weather complied.

Unfortunately, skies were mostly cloudy across the state for the eclipse, as a storm system spread rain. Gaps opened in the clouds in parts of the state, giving some a glimpse.

The eclipse started just before 1 p.m. Central Time, peaked around 2:02 p.m. in the Twin Cities, and ended by 3:10 to 3:15 p.m. The path of totality in the U.S. first saw the total eclipse starting around 1:27 p.m. in Texas.

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Solar eclipse April 8 2024
Solar eclipse April 8, 2024.
NASA data via

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.

Kids express disappointment: ‘I guess we needed the rain’

Hundreds of people gathered at St. Paul’s Bell Museum for eclipse-related activities on Monday afternoon despite the clouds.

Selina Dehn brought her kid, Harper, to the museum, where they colored a flip book to make a little stop-motion activity to illustrate the eclipse.

“We’re a little sad it’s cloudy, but they’re doing a livestream so that’s pretty cool,” Dehn said, referring to NASA’s livestream.

A lot of people seemed disappointed about the cloud cover, but the mood at the Bell Museum was still celebratory. At one point one person dressed as the sun jostled with another dressed as the moon.

”Well, today’s kind of a big day because it’s the solar eclipse the time when I get to block out the sun,” the moon said.

“That’s true. But I get to show off my beautiful corona,” the sun replied.

In classrooms across Minnesota, there were a lot of canceled plans. Teachers last week were helping students create shadow boxes and pinhole projectors and ordering safety glasses. Some had even planned observation activities to record plant and animal behavior during the eclipse here in Minnesota. 

But the cloudy weather meant most classes had to cancel those plans and, in many places, people were indoors and watching a livestream of the event elsewhere. 

At Barnum Public Schools, students were asked to describe their eclipse experience in six words, also known as "Eclipse in Six." Submissions included

  • the only eclipse is on television

  • hope to see it next time

  • it was amazing, I've been told

  • it was a sad let down

  • I guess we needed the rain

MPR News meteorologist in Indiana: ‘more amazing than I thought’

MPR News meteorologist Sven Sungaard, who viewed his first total eclipse from the path of totality in Terre Haute, Indiana, said totality was “absolutely amazing — it really is kind of indescribable.

“Just an eerie calm. The birds did stop chirping,” he said, adding that the temperature dropped 9 degrees in about 10 minutes. 

“The corona was more amazing than I thought and better than it looks like in the pictures,” he said, referencing how the sun’s atmosphere glows around the moon. 

He recommends people chase upcoming solar eclipses in sunny locations, including Egypt in 2027 and Australia in 2028.

Watch a livestream of the eclipse from NASA

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.”

The partial solar eclipse is seen through a telescope at the Galileo Galilei planetarium in Buenos Aires on Dec. 14, 2020.
Juan Mabromata | AFP via Getty Images

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.

People use a box pinhole projector to watch the annular solar eclipse in Bogota.
Juan Barreto | AFP via Getty Images 2023

There are still ways to witness the eclipse. Here are some 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.

  3. Use a colander or hold your hands up and weave your fingers together at a 90-degree angle to see the shadow of the eclipse on the ground through the small holes and gaps.

Minnesota college students in Indiana for eclipse project

A coalition of Minnesota college students is 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 planned to 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.

Students get ready to launch a weather balloon
St. Cloud State University students taking part in the Nationwide Eclipse Ballooning Project during the annular solar eclipse in 2023 in Socorro, N.M.
Courtesy Rachel Humphrey