By Victoria Kertz and Sara Hall | NB Indy
Millions of onlookers were in awe Monday morning as the shadow of the moon passed over the contiguous United States during a rare total solar eclipse.
Dubbed the “Great American Eclipse,” the astronomical event was the first time totality has been observed from mainland American soil since 1979. Another won’t be visible in the U.S. until April 8, 20124.
The path of totality – the route of the moon’s shadow where the moon completely covered the sun – made landfall in Oregon and ended in South Carolina. People inside the 70-mile wide path experienced 100 percent totality. The rest of the nation, including Newport Beach, experienced some degree of a partial solar eclipse.
Experts estimated that the 12 million population typically within the path of totality nearly doubled on Monday as people flocked to the center line. Newport Beach residents headed primarily to Oregon and Idaho in order to witness the full effect of the eclipse.
A small group on the outskirts of Weiser, Idaho, gathered in a friend’s yard for the event, which included just over two minutes of totality.
“It’s more than just a photo can show,” said Rachael Amaya of Kuna, Idaho, “it’s a whole experience.”
The temperature dropped an estimated 10 to 15 degrees, causing a few to get the chills. In the shadow of the moon, the entire land was swathed in darkness and the stars became visible.
Crickets started to chirp and a few coyotes were heard yipping. Other than those few quiet sounds, it was oddly silent.
“It was an eerie, surreal feeling,” Amaya said. “I’ve never experienced anything like it.”
The odd sensation as the light vanishes in the middle of the day elicits a wide range of responses from people, both young and old. Some children cried, scared of the sudden darkness while others delighted in looking at the sun, something they’re told never to do under normal circumstances.
“Amazing,” “incredible” and “intense” were a few words used to describe the experience. One girl simply said “Wow,” and sat with her mouth agape.
In Newport Beach, spectators saw a partial eclipse of about 60 percent.
Approximately 300 people viewed the “Great American Eclipse” at the central branch of the Newport Beach Public Library on Monday morning. Starting at 9 a.m., the library staff presented a live stream of NASA’s online coverage on a large screen in the Friends of the Library Room. Celestial snacks were provided in the form of SunChips and MoonPies.
At times, the room was at full capacity and a line formed outside of the door.
Jessica Burritt of Laguna Beach brought her sons Luke and Ryan to watch the live stream and stood at the back of the room.
“It’s a once in a life time experience,” Burritt said.
She wanted to hear NASA’s expert commentary on the event and also see the images from different parts of the country.
“I think it’s important,” she added.
People of all ages marveled as the live stream showed the moon just start to creep in front of the sun.
“It’s like the moon is taking a little bite into the sun,” noted Peter Kertz (this reporter’s son), who watched with a group of children gathered on the floor of the Friends room, just under the screen.
After the eclipse reached its fullest at 10:21 a.m., many visitors went outside to try and get a glimpse of the eclipse from the front of the library. Mother Nature provided a typically bright August morning for stargazers to witness the moon’s passing in front of the sun.
Eclipse-viewing glasses that provided a safe way to look at the sun during the eclipse were in short supply nationwide. Retailers like Walmart and Lowe’s sold out their inventory of glasses in nearby cities of Irvine and Aliso Viejo.
Many attendees used homemade methods, like pieces of white cardboard with a small hole poked in it. Held up to the sun, they projected a shadow image of the eclipse on the ground. Those who had the special glasses shared them.
“Library staff and customers shared their glasses, pinhole cameras, and enthusiasm with one another to view the phases of the eclipse,” Library Services Manager Natalie Basmaciyan wrote in an email.
Many people were astonished at what they saw, one commented that she did not expect it to be that dramatic, another put the glasses on and laughed in surprise.
Basmaciyan added that everyone enjoyed the event, “as well as a sense of community.”
Library Technical Manager Melissa Hartson, who assisted visitors coming and going from the Friends room said she was surprised by the large turnout.
“There was a lot of buildup to it,” she said of the eclipse, “ But I didn’t think we would have that many people. It was a nice surprise.”
Viewing parties were held in libraries and other venues nationwide, because Monday’s eclipse offered at least partial coast-to-coast visibility.