Eclipse brings out astronomy buffs, curious observers –

Monday’s solar eclipse began in Erie around 1:10 p.m. and concluded shortly before 4 p.m. The highlight or literal low light came at 2:30 p.m., when the moon covered 75.9 percent of the sun.

The blue sky turned dim.

Mother Nature flipped a switch to illuminate the ornamental lights outside Penn State Behrend’s School of Science. People young and old climbed a step ladder to gaze through a telescope. Others, donning flimsy cardboard glasses, tilted their heads upward. Even the large pores of leaves cast crescent-shaped cutouts into the shadows below.

“It’s amazing, Mother Nature, and everyone gathering together to celebrate this wonderful thing that’s happening today,” 48-year-old Anne Regener, of Erie, said. “It’s pretty special, this natural phenomenon.”

Monday’s solar eclipse began in Erie around 1:10 p.m. and concluded shortly before 4 p.m. The highlight or literal low light came at 2:30 p.m., when the moon covered 75.9 percent of the sun. In other sections of the country, from Oregon to South Carolina, onlookers witnessed the first total solar eclipse since February 1978. The last visible partial solar eclipse for the region was in 1994.

Regener was among the hundreds of people who gathered for a free public viewing event at Penn State Behrend, which set up three telescopes outside the School of Science, offered tours of the Yahn Planetarium and handed out free eclipse glasses to the first 100 people in line.

“Beautiful,” marveled Lydia Chimenti, of Erie, as she stepped back from an Orion telescope to see the early stages of the eclipse. “It took a big chunk out of (the sun). It looks like somebody took a bite out of a cookie.”

Chimenti, an astronomy enthusiast, took astronomy classes at Behrend 15 years ago and returns periodically for special events at the planetarium. She’s planning to travel to Iceland in October to view the northern lights. She took a half-day off work for the eclipse.

Johnny Carr, 13, of Franklin, drove an hour with his mom, Johnna Carr, and sister, Ava Carr, for the event.

“It kind of looked like a big piece of cheese with a cut in it,” he said after looking through a telescope. “It was pretty cool.”

Sophie Bleil, 10, a fourth-grader at Clark Elementary in Harborcreek, couldn’t see much through the telescope, but her face lit up when she tried eclipse glasses.

“You can see a crescent,” she said.

A few dozen people arrived at Behrend two hours before the event began to line up for free eclipse glasses, which most area stores were sold out of late last week.

Others arrived with their own creations. Kellan Loranger, 4, of North East, carried a makeshift eclipse viewer designed from an empty box of Shredded Wheat. Jay Amicangelo, a chemistry professor at Behrend, couldn’t get his hands on the specialty glasses, so he transformed a shoe box into a pinhole viewer.

School of Science employees helped small children and students make their own pinhole viewers out of black construction paper and tinfoil. Holes were poked using tooth picks. Freshman Brandon Banas, 18, used his to capture the sun’s crescent shape on a blank white sheet of paper he set on the sidewalk.

Priscilla Hamilton, 60, of Harborcreek, came armed with a paper towel tube that was covered by a pin-poked piece of paper at one end. But she didn’t need it.

“I didn’t think I was going to be one of the 100 people lucky enough to get my own glasses,” the retired U.S. Army dentist said.

Then there was Bill Augur, 69, also of Harborcreek. He tried a contraption in 1994 without much luck, but gave it another try Monday after going online for help. Augur arranged a pair of binoculars on a tripod, covering all but the lenses with a large cardboard box. It also projected the sun’s orange-peel shape onto a piece of paper.

Some people tried to photograph the eclipse using their glasses as filters. Behrend sophomore accounting majors Khushi Kantawala and Katerina Ellis were among them. Kantawala, 18, propped up her glasses until Ellis was able to snap the perfect shot.

“It’s actually really cool, I’ve never seen one,” Ellis said.

“My mom called and said, ‘Don’t look at the sun. Go to your classes. Don’t look up there,'” a laughing Kantawala said. “I said, ‘Mom, it’s college, you know I’m not going to (listen).'”

Darren Williams, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at Behrend, used a yellow-painted Styrofoam ball about the size of basketball and a softball to demonstrate what would occur once the eclipse began. Williams said Monday’s eclipse wasn’t as dramatic as the one in 1994.

“In the ’94 (eclipse) for Erie, the moon passed directly in front of the sun, but it was too far away,” he said. “It looked too small to cover up the whole face of the sun, so you saw the edge of the sun peeking out from the moon.”

That eclipse covered about 95 percent of the sun, compared to 76 percent coverage Monday.

For the next eclipse in 2024 the sun will be 100 percent covered for the Erie area, he said.

“That’s very rare for one location on Earth to experience eclipses of this magnitude separated by only seven years,” he said. “Usually it’s 20, 30 or 40 years between major eclipses.”

Matthew Rink can be reached at 870-1884 or by email. Follow him on Twitter at

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Eclipse brings out astronomy buffs, curious observers –

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