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Where to view the Great American Eclipse in Fargo-Moorhead

This photo of a total solar eclipse was taken by Dr. Mark Gealy on Feb. 26, 1979, in Lewistown, Mont. Photo Special to The Forum.

MOORHEAD — While avid astronomers booked their totality travel plans months ago, novice skywatchers plan to witness the Great American Eclipse closer to home by attending viewing parties, making do-it-yourself viewing glasses and planning that picture-perfect photo.

"It's extremely rare for any solar eclipse to happen at one spot on the Earth. Only a tiny fraction of the Earth's surface will be treated to any one solar eclipse," said Dr. Mark Gealy of Concordia College's physics department. "They happen out in the ocean more often than not because the ocean covers most of the surface of the Earth."

Gealy has looked forward to this particular phenomenon since 1968. Growing up in the middle of Nebraska, he always knew that in 2017 he would be returning to his home state to view this total eclipse.

Tomorrow, the solar eclipse's path of totality will sprawl across the U.S. from Lincoln Beach, Ore., to Charleston, S.C. Outside of the path of totality — as in the Red River Valley — a partial eclipse will allow residents to view a percentage of the moon's shadow starting around 11:30 a.m. until about 2:30 p.m.

"The total eclipse only happens on occasion because the moon's orbit is on tilt," said Sarah Schultz, Minnesota State University Moorhead's planetarium director.

From Fargo's perspective, the moon won't pass directly in front of the sun. Instead of a total eclipse with a dark circular glow, area viewers will see a crescent moon shape when the eclipse peaks here at 12:59 p.m.

Observing a partial eclipse is more common than the surreal total eclipse where, for a brief period, all but the solar corona — the sun's outer atmosphere with pearly white rays — is visible.

"In the Fargo area, the sun is going to be 80 percent covered, so it will be the deepest partial eclipse we will have here in quite a long time," Gealy said.

Protect your eyes

Schultz and her colleague Juan Cabanela have provided education to the community in preparation for the eclipse as well as discounted and specially-designed eclipse glasses.

"Directly looking at the sun, even during a partial solar eclipse, is extremely dangerous. This isn't just because it is bright, but because it also puts out a lot of invisible ultraviolet light that can damage your eyes," Schultz said.

Before the eclipse tomorrow, Cabanela, Gealy and Schultz strongly recommend either purchasing or making special eclipse glasses to view the natural phenomenon safely.

"Some people try to view solar eclipses through improvised filters like sunglasses, potato-chip bags, DVDs, etc.," Schultz said. "The danger is, while this can block the visible light, it often lets enough of the UV light into your eyes to cause damage."

Jay Bjerke, Fargo-Moorhead's Astronomy Club coordinator, agreed.

"I so worry about those young kids staring at the glowing orb and essentially blinding themselves," Bjerke said. "There's so many safe ways to do it,so there's no reason not to have the proper protection."

Bjerke reminded the community that while there are safe ways to view the eclipse, it's easy to get caught up in the excitement and choose a quick-fix that may not protect your eyes properly.

"During total eclipse — which we won't have here — it is safe to look at the sun only during the totality with unprotected eyes," Gealy said. "So using binoculars or a camera or anything like that will only make matters worse."

Though some viewing parties will have a limited amount of glasses available, others may require attendees to bring their own.

Partial eclipse parties

Despite the fact area astronomers are traveling to areas in Nebraska, Missouri, Montana and Colorado, locals can mark the Great American Eclipse by attending one of these viewing parties in the metro area.

• MSUM Eclipse Viewing Party begins at 11:30 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. in the G-3 parking lot near the corner of 11th Street and Sixth Avenue South in Moorhead. The event is free on the first day of MSUM's fall semester. There will be a very limited amount of safety glasses available. Because eclipse glasses are not guaranteed, all attendees should ensure they have a way to safely view the eclipse. Call (218) 477-2460 for more information.

• NDSU Safe Eclipse Viewing begins at 11:45 a.m. and ends at 2 p.m. Find the table at the south entrance of the South Engineering building at 1211 Albrecht Blvd., Fargo. Paid parking is available in the Visitors Lot or the Memorial Union. Only 50 eclipse glasses will be available for attendees. Contact Sylvio May at (701) 231-7048 with questions.

• Solar Eclipse Viewing Party at the Dr. James Carlson Library on 32nd Avenue South in Fargo begins at 10 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. Kids of all ages are invited to learn through snacks and crafts. This is the only Fargo library location that will have 250 eclipse glasses available for the event. Call (701) 241-1472 for more information.

• Eclipse Viewing Party at the Red River Zoo begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. Children receive free admission. Special Red River Zoo eclipse glasses available for the first 1,100 people. Before and after the eclipse, the zoo will host special animal presentations, zookeeper talks and discounted carousel rides with hot dogs and brats for sale. Contact the Red River Zoo at (701) 277-9240 with questions.

• Solar Eclipse Viewing Celebration in downtown Fargo on the Roberts Commons Garage, 625 2nd Ave. N., begins at 11 a.m. and ends at 1 p.m. Attendees provide their own eyewear. Visit the Facebook event page, "Solar Eclipse Viewing Celebration," for more information.

April Knutson

April Knutson is lifestyle-focused journalist producing stories for the Forum News Service about people, health, community issues and services. She earned her degree in both English Literature and Mass Communications. After working as digital marketing specialist and web design consultant for a few years, she joined Forum Communications in 2015. She grew on farm near Volga, S.D. Follow her on Twitter @april_knutson.

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