Clouds Make Monday's Eclipse a Dimmer Experience Than in 1979

August 21, 2017 05:11 PM

This one didn't quite measure up to 38 years ago.

That was the opinion of Sandra Fonkert anyway.


The longtime hospital employee at the University of Minnesota was one of many who gathered on the university mall to witness the solar eclipse back in February of 1979.

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"That was very exciting," Fonkert recalled. "I'd developed some type of device to help me look at it on paper because we didn't have the protective eyewear back then like we do now. I remember there were a whole lot of people out there watching."

"It was February and I just had a lab coat on," she said. "I remember it being a really sunny day. It was a little chilly. But I didn't care. It was amazing just to be there."

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Fonkert still works in the same place, and after finishing her shift around 12:45 p.m. Monday, she again popped out to take in the eclipse - the first of its magnitude since 1979.

But thanks to the cloudy weather, the experience was a bit more underwhelming.

"There were still a few people out there trying to catch a glimpse of it," she said. "But there wasn't much to see. It wasn't like before. That's for sure."

Although back then, Fonkert couldn't imagine even being around for the next one.

"I was 27, and I didn't even think I'd be alive in 2017," she said with a laugh. "It seemed like such a long time away."

Lawrence Rudnick, a distinguished teaching professor at the university's Minnesota Institute for Astrophysics, was an assistant professor in the astronomy department back in 1979.

He too was on the mall that day.

"I think a lot of people in Minnesota have memories of that eclipse because the totality came so close to us," said Rudnick, who in 1979 used a flat mirror to reflect the image of the sun on to a sheet hanging on Coffman Memorial Union.

"The path of totality went through Winnipeg, so there was a lot of coverage in Minnesota. And we had spectacularly clear weather - those crisp, blue skies you get in the winter," he added.

But unlike Fonkert and the others here in Minnesota, Rudnick was able to get a great view of Monday's eclipse. He was at a ranch just north of Redmond, Oregon - not too far from the centerline of the eclipse's path of totality.

"This was just pure fun," he said. "My research has nothing to do with the sun, but it was just a spectacular viewing experience. Once you see a total eclipse, it's something you can't wait to experience again."


Frank Rajkowski

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