Eclipse brings out amateur astronomers, curious sun-gazers in Groton

Kaleigh Allen, 11 of Groton, from left, Allysiah Sheffield, 11 of Mystic, Shanelle Sheffield, 9, of Mystic and D'Nae Sheffield, 7, of Mystic, watch the partial solar eclipse outside the Groton Public Library in Groton on Monday, August 21, 2017. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
Kaleigh Allen, 11 of Groton, from left, Allysiah Sheffield, 11 of Mystic, Shanelle Sheffield, 9, of Mystic and D'Nae Sheffield, 7, of Mystic, watch the partial solar eclipse outside the Groton Public Library in Groton on Monday, August 21, 2017. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)

Groton — The Earth, moon and sun did exactly what they do every day on Monday, moving in the same circles they normally do.

But this time everyone was watching.

Astronomy buffs — along with people who realized only Monday morning that the moon would cross between the sun and the earth — went outside together, taking peeks through reflective lenses at the first solar eclipse to be visible across the U.S. in 99 years.

Told that the Groton Public Library would be handing out free glasses that would prevent eye damage and allow them to see the eclipse clearly, people started lining up at 7:00 Monday morning. Many local stores had sold out of the glasses long before Monday, and with a donation from the Space Science Institute, the Groton library had hundreds to give away.

By 1 p.m., when the library’s program officially began and the first people in line were let into the building, the lenses started to seem like a valuable commodity. After about 200 pairs were given out, and even after staff at the Public Library of New London brought over extras, there was still a line of people waiting.

Most of the northern East Coast experienced only a partial eclipse — the moon covered almost 70 percent of the sun in Connecticut.

But the extensive media coverage and curiosity about the total eclipse that covered a stretch of the country from Oregon to South Carolina brought hundreds out to local viewing locations. Mystic Seaport hosted an all-day eclipse-themed educational program, and schools and observatories around the region welcomed people with a few minutes to stare at the sun.

Alicia Ross, a teacher at Groton’s West Side Middle School, was the last person in line at the Groton library to get a pair of glasses. A library worker handed her the glasses and Ross sped up a little as she walked through the doors out of the library.

“I feel like I won the lotto,” she said.

A crowd of dozens of people started forming after the line dispersed on a field behind the library, where members of the Thames Astronomical Society and some Girl Scouts were armed with information about the eclipse.

Just before 1:30 p.m., the moon started to cross in front of the sun.

“It’s starting,” yelled Ted Allen, a science teacher at Ledyard Middle School, adding later, “I’m excited about stuff like this. I’m a science teacher, for God’s sakes.”

George Blahum, a Quaker Hill resident and a member of the Thames Amateur Astronomical Society, held up a reflective lens for people to look through and take photos on their smart phones.

“The thing I hear most is, ‘Oh, that’s cool,’” he said.

For those unable to travel to the so-called “path of totality,” watching the sun turn into a crescent from behind a telescope was the best it was going to get.

In communities across the country where the eclipse was total, darkness fell. Some eclipse watchers reportedly cheered and clapped as they caught a gimpse of the corona, a plasma layer around sun visible only during totality.

“The sun goes dark and the stars come out,” Blahum said. “I’d like to experience it just once.”

Hoping to translate interest into the eclipse into a longer-term astronomy habit, Thames Amateur Astronomical Society member Amy Stone told anyone who would listen about the group’s next event, a Sept. 22 nighttime gathering at Candlewood Ridge in Groton.

Clouds covered the sun for several minutes at the peak of the partial eclipse in Groton, causing Stone to shake her fist at the sky until they cleared up and the sun came back into view through her solar telescope.

Not everyone was sure what the eclipse meant, and at least a few people had managed to avoid the frenzy of eclipse talk in the weeks before Monday, unaware until they saw the library crowd that it was scheduled to happen. 

One woman worried she had damaged her eyes by looked at the eclipse through regular sunglasses. Natasia Hammond, who came with her two children from Ledyard while her astronomy-obsessed husband was at work, suddenly remembered that someone had warned against leaving pets outside during the eclipse.

“I left my dog outside,” she said after her kids had a good look at the eclipse through a solar telescope. “We have to go.”

m.shanahan@theday.com

Quinten Clay of Arlington, Va., looks up at the partial solar eclipse outside the Groton Public Library in Groton on Monday, August 21, 2017. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
Quinten Clay of Arlington, Va., looks up at the partial solar eclipse outside the Groton Public Library in Groton on Monday, August 21, 2017. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
The partial solar eclipse is seen through layer of clouds outside the Groton Public Library in Groton on Monday, August 21, 2017. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)
The partial solar eclipse is seen through layer of clouds outside the Groton Public Library in Groton on Monday, August 21, 2017. (Peter Huoppi/The Day)

READER COMMENTS

Loading comments...
Hide Comments