top of page

April 11, 2024

Observing the April 8 Total Eclipse
Julia Belden
Staff Writer

It’s the ultimate sunblock. 

On Monday, Apr 8, the continental U.S. experienced a rare event: a total solar eclipse. Millions flocked to the path of totality, stretching from Texas to Maine, to witness the spectacle of the moon blocking out the sun. 


Although Northern Michigan was outside of the path of totality, excitement about the event was palpable. Hundreds of posts and comments on the “Overheard in Traverse City” Facebook page sought information on where to find eclipse safety glasses, with several jokesters offering to “reschedule” the cosmic event for those who couldn’t acquire the protective eyewear in time.


In Elk Rapids, dozens of eager eclipse viewers sat in the grass outside of Art & Connection, a local nonprofit community center. Kids (and many adults) participated in space-based craft activities as the moon slowly made its way across the surface of the sun. 


According to USA Today’s eclipse tracker, Northern Michigan experienced a partial eclipse that peaked at 3:12pm with 87.2% of the sun covered by the moon. The effects were noticeable: the temperature dropped slightly and a hint of unnatural darkness tinted the sky. 


Like many onlookers, NMC student Katie Koester was impressed by the celestial show, calling it a moment of “pure wonder.” Upon learning the next total eclipse crossing the U.S. won’t be until 2045, she did a quick calculation and cringed.


“I’ll be 40 years old then! That’s terrifying,” she laughed.


While most of us were content to sit back and enjoy the eclipse, scientists from around the country scrambled to gather data during the brief moment of totality. NMC Astronomy Instructor Dr. Gerald Dobek joined a line of astronomers and space photographers stationed strategically along the eclipse’s path. The goal? Capturing enough images of the eclipse to stitch together, creating an eclipse “megamovie” which would provide a never-before-seen look at the sun’s outer atmosphere, called the corona.   


“From the 2017 [total solar eclipse], we were looking to see if we could get greater detail of the corona down close to the surface area of the sun,” said Dobek. “The only time we can get a good look at the corona is during a total solar eclipse.”


The moon is just the right size to fit snugly over the bright orb of the sun, allowing scientists like Dobek to take detailed photographs of the corona that even spacecraft are unable to achieve.


“What we’ve found, especially near the polar regions, [the corona] comes out as filaments, just like hairs on your head,” Dobek continued. “Now what we’d like to do is get further evidence on how that forms.”


Dobek was originally slated to be stationed in Texas for the NASA-sponsored research project, but was re-routed to a park in Findlay, Ohio due to poor weather conditions in the Lone Star State. Over 1000 people flooded the area as he snapped solar photos during the 3 minute and 42 second totality. 


“The temperature dropped 10 degrees” and street lamps turned on during the few minutes of darkness, Dobek said. He’s happy with the photos he took, one of which features the coronal filaments erupting from the sun’s south pole (at approximately the seven o’clock position–the sun is tilted on its axis). 


“The science turned out really, really well,” Dobek said. Once the eclipse megamovie is complete, it will be available for the public to watch at Traverse City residents looking for some “extra space” in their lives can tune into Z93 Monday mornings at 7:50am to listen to Dr. Dobek talks about all things astronomy. NMC’s Rogers Observatory also hosts public events and viewings on the first Friday of every month: visit for details.

bottom of page