Ring of fire

Rare annular solar eclipse occurs Sunday

By HANNAH JOHNSON – Stillwater Gazette

Here’s hoping for clear skies on Sunday.

An annular solar eclipse takes place starting at 7:18 p.m. Sunday. If the skies are clear, Minnesotans will have the chance to witness an event that hasn’t been visible in the state for 10 years.

The last time Minnesotans had the chance to view a partial solar eclipse was in 2002. At that time residents could only see 30 percent of the sun being covered. On Sunday, residents will be able to see 68 percent of the sun eclipsed.

During an annular solar eclipse the moon covers up most of the sun, but it leaves a ring of the sun’s surface around the moon. The silhouette of the moon causes you to see a ring of fire around the moon, said Jeff Ranta, an astronomy teacher at the Stillwater Area High School.

Ranta said Minnesotans would not be able to see a total annular eclipse. Instead, it will be a partial eclipse.

"The annular eclipse will be in the southwest of the U.S., so we’re not in that path," Ranta said. "So only people in the southwest will see it, but we in Minnesota will see a partial eclipse where over half of the sun will be covered by the moon’s silhouette."

The total annular eclipse’s path will stretch from northern California to western Texas.

Still, with the right equipment, St. Croix Valley residents can view the spectacle. Ranta hosts a gathering for his students to view the eclipse with the right equipment. They plan to meet on the high school practice field behind Pony Stadium. Ranta will provide special filters, including special glasses, a telescope filter and a projection system to help show the eclipse. Do not use binoculars or a telescope without a filter.

"It’s so crucial to have solar eclipse glasses or some kind of filter on your telescope. You can’t just look up," Ranta said. "You can go blind."

If you don’t own the proper equipment to view the eclipse, Ranta suggests residents make their own equipment.

One of the easiest ways to view an eclipse is to create a pinhole projector. All you need are a long box that’s at least six feet long, a piece of aluminum foil, a pin and a sheet of white paper. Find the long box or tube and cut a hole in the center of one end of the box. Tape a piece of foil over the hole and poke a small hole in the foil with a pin. Then cut a viewing hole in the side of the box and put a white piece of paper inside the end of the box near the viewing portal.

After you’ve made your device point the end of the box with the pinhole at the sun so you can see a round image on the paper at the other end. The spot of light you’ll see on the paper is a pinhole image of the sun.

"Don’t look at the sun. People should not look through the pinhole at the sun," Ranta said. "What you’re doing is projecting the silhouette of the sun on the back of the box."

The next astronomical event after Sunday’s annular eclipse is the June 5 transit of Venus where the planet will pass across the face of the sun. Transits of Venus occur in pairs, eight years apart, with more than a century separating each pair. Ranta said this would be a once in a lifetime event since the next time it will occur will be in 2117.