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Bloomington-Normal gets ready for a solar eclipse

From left, Brayden Sefranek and Bella Ogurek ’23 are student organizers of a campus watch party for a total solar eclipse on April 8.
Illinois State University
Illinois State University students Brayden Sefranek, left, and Bella Ogurek are organizers of a campus watch party for a total solar eclipse on Monday, April 8.

For the second time in seven years, Bloomington-Normal residents will get to see a solar eclipse. If the sky is clear, the Monday eclipse could be better than the one in 2017. The next one won't happen in Central Illinois for another 20 years.

Emily Schirmacher is a project manager for Halo Solar of Goodfield, which has donated thousands of eclipse glasses to Twin City children.

“There are three different types of solar eclipses you can observe on earth. There are total solar eclipses, like the one that we're going to see. There are annular solar eclipses, which occur when the moon is a little bit further away from the Earth, so it's not covering up the entirety of the sun. You get what's called a ring of fire there. There are also partial solar eclipses, here you're going to see something like a crescent shape of the sun,” said Schirmacher.

The eclipse will travel across the United States, Mexico, and Canada starting at 12:47 p.m. Monday, and reach its peak over Bloomington-Normal from 1:59 p.m. to 2:04 p.m. with a totality of 95.9%. The eclipse will conclude at 3:20 p.m.

Schirmacher said this year's eclipse could be more spectacular than the last one viewed in Central Illinois because the moon is closer to the earth than it was back in 2017.

"The way the moon orbits the earth is more of an ellipse pattern. At certain points it's going to be further away from the earth and at certain points it's going to be closer. When it's closer, you will be more likely to see that total solar eclipse," she said.

In Bloomington-Normal, you’ll see a 95-96% partial eclipse — not bad, but not as good as the 100% totality that will be visible in the 115-mile-wide strip across southern Illinois.

“In that 96%, you're still going to see a little bit of the sun. You're not going to be able to see the corona quite as strongly as you would in southern parts of the state. But it's still going to be a really fantastic view. But if you can handle the traffic, you can drive down and definitely check it out,” said Schirmacher.

In 2017, there were hours of congestion on rural roads and interstates as people poured into the area for a more complete experience.

A group of about 30 from the Twin City Amateur Astronomers is headed to Camp Ondessonk in southern Illinois to present a three-day eclipse program to as many as 1,000 onsite viewers. Viewing also will be good in parts of Indiana — Indianapolis, for instance — as the path of the eclipse curves northeast to the coast of Canada.

If you look down, not up, during a solar eclipse you will see shadows. If there is foliage, reflections of the shape of the sun will filter through trees in a dappled pattern on the ground.

“You'll see crescent shapes going through the trees,” said Schirmacher.

It's never good to look directly into the sun, eclipse or not. Schirmacher and others urge people to get glasses that are rated properly to protect your eyes when viewing the eclipse.

The eclipse will temporarily disrupt solar power generation in portions of the U.S. Solar installations now produce about 5% of the nation's electricity, according to the Solar Energies Industry Association.

That could be enough to have a noticeable effect on the Midwestern power grid during the eclipse. The association said nearly half of the new electric generating capacity in the U.S. in 2022 came from solar installations. At some point, sharp disruptions in solar generation from something like an eclipse could have the potential to affect the power grid.

Schirmacher said not so fast. Eclipses are predictable.

"Because grid operators are able to prepare in advance for that outage, they end up ramping up different sources of power, like coal or natural gas. They put that power into the grid and users should not see an impact to the grid," she said.

What's happening near Bloomington-Normal

There are several eclipse gatherings planned for Monday in and around Bloomington-Normal, where the maximum eclipse will happen around 2 p.m. A partial list of those events is below. Contact us at news@wglt.org if you have something to add to the list.

  • Illinois State University viewing, starting at 1 p.m. on the Quad. There will be several student organizations on Schroeder Plaza to share information about the eclipse, along with a livestream of the eclipse and a telescope with a solar filter for viewing. There will be multiple kiosks around the Quad distributing eclipse rated glasses.
  • The Challenger Learning Center at Heartland Community College in Normal will host a viewing party from 1-2:30 p.m. on the main campus. The event will begin at the Astroth Community Education Center, where safety glasses will be distributed. There will be an interactive game that explains the science behind the eclipse before heading outside to view the event near Heartland’s Birky Pond. The event is free, but registration is requested.
  • Bloomington Public Library watch party, 1-2:30 p.m., Marie Litta Park [near the library at Jackson and Gridley streets]. Contact Carol at reference@bloomingtonlibrary.org.
  • NPR live special coverage from 1-3 p.m., including updates from NPR reporters around the country. Listen on 89.1 FM or stream at WGLT.org or on the NPR App.
  • Eureka College watch party, 1-3 p.m., lawn outside Whetzel House.

And ahead of the eclipse, the Illinois State University Planetarium will host free programs on Friday and Saturday focused on moon phases and eclipses. It's free, but donations are appreciated.

WGLT Senior Reporter Charlie Schlenker has spent more than three award-winning decades in radio. He lives in Normal with his family.
Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.