The moon’s shadow swept over Denver on Aug. 21, inflicting a bout of eclipse fever on the student population at Auraria. However, Denver received 93 percent of solar coverage during the eclipse as the city lay outside the path of full totality. Clustered in small groups throughout campus, many students muttered between each other their expectation that the sky would go totally dark. They registered their shock that 7 percent of the sun was still enough to keep the sky bright, if somewhat subdued.
“It would have been really cool if we saw the total eclipse,” said MSU Denver student Alex Davis.
Before the culmination of the Moon and Sun’s celestial dance however, Denverites shared the hype over the upcoming eclipse with the rest of the nation. Eclipse glasses sold out at retailers. Distributors ran out and desperate consumers went online to buy them last minute at $45 per pair on eBay.
The Denver Museum of Nature and Science did its fair share of pumping up Colorado for Monday’s show. The museum’s monthly science lounge, held on Aug. 17, was dedicated to the science behind eclipses. On the fourth floor sky terrace, volunteers had the museum’s collection of telescopes posted at the sun. Special lens filters allowed visitors to view the sun’s surface, and its sunspots, through the telescopes.
The museum made its sky terrace available to watch the eclipse on Aug. 21.
Ka Chun Yu, the museum’s space science curator, delivered a lesson on eclipses and their history to visitors who stopped by the museum’s IMAX theater. Using audience volunteers, he demonstrated what makes it possible for eclipses to occur. He also spoke about the importance that historical eclipses have had in furthering scientists’ understanding of the universe. One eclipse in 1878 was used to predict the discovery of helium, and another eclipse in 1919 was used to confirm Einstein’s general theory of relativity.
“Solar eclipses are exciting because everyone can see them. They also engage people in helping them understand the geometry of our solar system,” he said. He added that the museum ran out of its supply of 4,000 glasses in around 4 hours.
Elsewhere, volunteer Jose Zuniga led museum visitors in a round of eclipsercise. Those who partook in the activity used their bodies and arms to simulate the moon’s motion around the sun. Zuniga stood in the center, shifting awkwardly inside a lumpy sun costume. He said that getting guests physically engaged helped dispel myths about why eclipses don’t happen every month.
“It makes science tangible for people, less stuffy,” said visitor Kelsey Appleby about the activities at the museum’s science lounge. “It makes it fun and engaging. It makes it more important and tangible to someone who isn’t a scientist.”
She and her husband planned to drive to Glendale Reservoir to view the eclipse.
Appleby wasn’t the only local Coloradan to leave the city to view the eclipse. Totality would pass through Wyoming, making an awe-inspiring experience a day’s drive for most Coloradans.
“Everybody said that all these people were going to come to town and basically you could either fight it or embrace it,” said Mike Beard, superintendent of Solar eclipses are not as rare as people think, occuring nearly every 18 months. However, what does make them rare is where they fall over the Earth.
A quirk in orbital geometry is responsible for solar eclipses. The moon lies about 5 degrees off of Earth’s orbital plane around the sun.
Platte County School District 2 in Guernsey, Wyoming. He, along with Glen Suppes, principal of Guernsey-Sunrise K-12 School, turned the school grounds into a campsite. They charged visitors to camp overnight for the eclipse.
“So we said, ‘hey, let’s embrace it. Let’s do something to help people come to the eclipse and also help our students,’” Beard said.
Some Wyoming entrepreneurs embraced the spectacle a little too gleefully. The weekend before the eclipse, some motel rooms were listed as high as $2,500. Some MSU Denver students who left to witness totality made do by camping or staying with relatives.
Minutes before totality, the temperature dropped and the sky turned a twilight hue. Birds silenced as darkness approached.
Loud cheers greeted the eclipse from the crowd gathered on the football field at Guernsey-Sunrise. Sunlight returned after totality, which lasted a total of 2 minutes and 15 seconds. Birds chirped again.
Back in Denver, Alex Davis and her friend, fellow MSU Denver student Bailey Nelson, said that although they didn’t get the full excitement of totality they appreciated the half-moon shadows that the trees made during Denver’s partial eclipse. Denver barely missed totality this year but the community aspect was said to be appreciated by many students on campus.
“It was wicked but it was more cool to see the people that gathered for it,” Nelson said.
The next eclipse to touch the United States will take place in 2024.