Miles City prepares for near-total eclipse

Amorette Allison
Star Staff Writer

Get your cameras ready. And your eclipse-viewing glasses. And clear your schedule.

There will be a near total eclipse of the sun in Miles City on Monday, and it won’t happen again in Montana until 2044.

The shadow of the moon will begin to move across the sun at 10:25 a.m. with almost 90 percent totality reached at 11:44 a.m. The last of the moon’s shadow will slip past the sun at 1:07 p.m.

While organized eclipse-viewing activities are centered more to our south, where a total eclipse will be visible in places like Casper, Wyoming, there is still a viewing party planned for Miles City.

Miles City Public Library librarian Hannah Nash is organizing an Eclipse Viewing Party outside the library. The party will start at 11 a.m., about 20 minutes before the moon reaches its maximum coverage from Miles City’s perspective. Nash suggests bringing cookies or a treat to share with fellow viewers.

The librarians will assist anyone attending with making a quick pinhole camera which allows anyone to view the eclipse without special lenses or filters.

That’s right. Special glasses are required. Looking at a solar eclipse with the naked eye could result in damaged vision.

The most important to thing to remember, says Elizabeth Smith of Miles Community College, is to not stare directly at the sun.

Because Miles City will not experience totality, when the sun is completely obscured by the moon’s shadow, there will never be a time when it is safe to view the eclipse without special filters, viewers, glasses or other devices.

While the lack of glasses could obstruct your viewing, clouds shouldn’t be a factor. The National Weather Service forecast holds good news for eclipse fans. On Monday, when the eclipse occurs, the day is expected to be clear even as it becomes decreasingly sunny. 

A program on Thursday at the Library explained how the shadow of the moon falls on the sun to create an eclipse. 

The Earth orbits the sun and the moon orbits the Earth and sometimes the moon slips in between the sun and the Earth and “photobombs the sun,” according to Nash. 

Nash showed slides of the sun’s corona which is seen when the face of the sun itself is covered. Before photography was invented, Nash said artists had to draw what they saw, which could be dangerous if they looked at the sun too long.

 MCC’s Smith, who is also part of the Montana Space Grant Consortium, remembers the last solar eclipse in Montana in 1979.

“It got awful dark as I remember,” she said of that event. This year she will be part of team in Casper conducting weather experiments during the eclipse.

When Miles City residents last had a chance to view an eclipse, it was Jan. 26, 1979 and the weather was less pleasant. (See stories on page 12.) In fact, “pretty grim” was what an official predicted for much of the viewing area. Most of the state was covered with clouds and a winter storm was predicted. The clouds broke in many places just long enough for the eclipse to be viewed, and then the blizzard rolled in.

While viewing parties are as rare as eclipses here, area merchants said sales of protective glasses have been brisk.

The Cenex convenience store south of I-94 in Miles City had 150 pairs selling for 99 cents each. They sold quickly, store employees said.

Likewise for Walmart and Vision Clinic, the latter providing 100 pairs to customers, mostly free.

None of those three businesses will be getting more glasses before the eclipse.

While people like eclipses, animals, well, not so much.

Pet owners won’t have to worry about their pets staring directly at the sun and hurting their eyes because, inherently, cats and dogs don’t do this, according to

Dr. Claire McNamee of East Main Animal Clinic of Miles City and Dr. Tara Slatton at Miles City Veterinary Service said there hasn’t been much research on how or if animal behavior changes during an eclipse. 

One piece of research from the Turkish Journal of Veterinary and Animal Sciences that Slatton provided was a study on the Aug. 11, 1999 eclipse that observed chickens, ducks, gulls, crows, sparrows, cattle, bees and horses.

According to the study, hens crowded together and were quiet and restless while gulls stopped flying around. Sparrows and crows also stopped flying and huddled together in the trees. Cattle and horses became quiet, didn’t move and sniffed the air. 

While neither veterinarian is sure if this eclipse will affect the local animals, they share similar personal opinions.

McNamee believes that it’s possible that animals may feel insecure and anxious for a short time. 

Slatton seconds that statement, saying that she believes that livestock may show signs of anxiety and stress.

“Basically all of the reported historical behaviors involve freezing with the possibility of vocalizations. So we don’t expect stampedes or horses to run through fences or anything like that,” said Slatton.

Mark Petersen of the Fort Keogh Livestock and Range Research Laboratory in Miles City said  he’s not expecting much of a reaction from the Fort’s cattle, noting that livestock doesn’t seem to be bothered by eclipses.

“They respond to things that happen suddenly because they are prey animals.” Since the sky darkens slowly, Peterson said “I think they’ll think it’s just a cloudy day.”

(Contact Amorette Allison at 406-234-0450 or Star Staff Writers Ashley Roness and Abe Winter contributed to this story.)


Tips for taking the perfect eclipse photo

When it comes to taking photos of or just viewing an eclipse, all the authorities start with the precaution of never looking or pointing a camera or telescope directly at the sun. 

This is even more important with cameras and telescopes because they focus and concentrate the light at the viewing point where you will put your eye. The photographer must use a solar filter. If even as little as one percent of the sunlight comes through, it would be concentrated strong enough to cause eye damage and even blindness.

Any camera can be used to photograph the eclipse but the larger the focal length of the lens, the larger the images of the sun and moon will be.

Determine the focal length of a telephoto lens and then divide by 50 to get the power of magnification of the resulting image. For example, a 45 to 50 mm lens creates an image the same size as the unaided eye will see.

A 500 mm telephoto lens will create an image 10 times larger than the unaided eye. If the telephoto focal length is over 2000 mm, the image may be so magnified that it does not show the entire sun and moon. Only a fraction of the eclipse will be seen.

For best images, put the camera on a tripod. Manually focus the camera setting to infinity, if the camera allows this. The light filter must be used over the front of the lens. A digital camera allows you to take some test shots and view the results right away.

As the eclipse progresses, you will want to adjust the exposure time or f-stop settings. As the screen gets darker, increase exposure time, or decrease f-stop setting, or both. 

On some cameras, set either the exposure time or the f-stop setting and let the camera’s auto exposure feature set the other.

If using this type of camera setting, you will need to also set the camera to underexpose two or three exposure factors on partial eclipse photos. Use the digital review to set and reset this as needed throughout the eclipse.

If you are in a group and take photos, be sure to share settings and results they are giving you, helping everyone get better photos.

(Contact Steve Allison at 234-0450 or

(EDITOR'S NOTE: Please see the the photo gallery Eclipse 2017 for more photos)