Solar eclipse wows Santa Cruz County, Bay Area – Santa Cruz Sentinel

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It wasn’t the full-blown extravaganza that some parts of the United States saw. But it was still pretty cool.

Across Santa Cruz County Monday morning, people paused to watch a rare astronomical spectacle: A partial solar eclipse.

John Gavrilis, a professional photographer and 38-year Aptos resident, strapped his trusty camera to its tripod in the parking lot above Seacliff State Beach early Monday and pointed the lens to the sky as he waited for the moon to make its move.

“It’s either going to happen or it isn’t,” said Gavrilis dispassionately, describing the potential for a clean shot.

Though he hasn’t made a regular habit of chasing astronomical phenomena, Gavrilis is no stranger to the stars and cut his teeth photographing famous rock bands and musicians in the 1970s. But whether it’s a partial solar eclipse or Mick Jagger gliding across the stage, Gavrilis said, the core principle for capturing a great photo remains the same.

“That’s what photography is all about,” said Gavrilis, leaning against his bumper. “A lot of sitting and waiting.”

Stella (left) and Sofia (right) Salciccia take a look at shadows of Monday's partial solar eclipse above Cliff Drive in Capitola through homemade viewer boxes. (PK Hattis - Santa Cruz Sentinel)
Stella (left) and Sofia (right) Salciccia take a look at shadows of Monday’s partial solar eclipse above Cliff Drive in Capitola through homemade viewer boxes. (PK Hattis – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Capitola resident Kristina Salciccia and her two children Stella, 11, and Sofia, 8, took a walk out to the bluffs above Cliff Drive in the late morning to join in on the fun. The family had made a pair of cardboard solar eclipse viewers that morning, which isolated a clear shadow of the eclipse that they could view without the need for safety glasses.

“It looks like the moon!” exclaimed Sofia, referring to the strikingly crescent shape in the sky.

“And do you know why it looks like the moon?” Stella patiently explained to her younger sibling. “Because the moon is covering it. So it looks like the moon.”

At UC Santa Cruz, students gathered at East Field for a solar eclipse party and wore special eclipse glasses to take in the interstellar action.

In some parts of the United States where a total eclipse unfolded, including Texas, Oklahoma and upstate New York, cloudy skies and rain blocked much of the show, disappointing people who had traveled long distances for the once-in-a-generation event. In other areas like Indianapolis and Cleveland where the skies were clearer, huge crowds cheered as day turned to night.

An example of a pinhole solar eclipse shadow viewer, as seen here in Capitola Monday. The homemade device uses pinholes in a sheet of tinfoil to project a sunny outline of the partial eclipse within the box's shadow. (PK Hattis - Santa Cruz Sentinel)
An example of a pinhole solar eclipse shadow viewer, as seen here in Capitola Monday. The homemade device uses pinholes in a sheet of tinfoil to project a sunny outline of the partial eclipse within the box’s shadow. (PK Hattis – Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Thankfully, Santa Cruz County and the Bay Area were largely cloud-free all morning for a celestial event that won’t happen again over the United States for two decades.

“These are the moments that, when you’re making memories, can top any gift of monetary value,” said Tracey Silva of Oakley who savored the eclipse on her 58th birthday with her daughter, Indigo Silva, 30, and her mother, Linda Adams, 76, at the Chabot Space & Science Center in the Oakland.

Clear skies across Northern California allowed people a perfect view as the moon obscured 34% of the sun in San Francisco and Oakland, and 36% in San Jose. The event began at 10:14 a.m., peaked at 11:13 a.m. and ended at 12:16 p.m.

Despite the panoramic view in the Oakland Hills, most of the 400 visitors who turned up for a sold-out eclipse-viewing party at Chabot spent the morning facing southwest, with their chins tilted 45° looking up at the unfolding display.

Onlookers peered through pairs of flimsy eclipse glasses, personal cameras or the variety of telescopes — big and small — available on Chabot’s viewing deck.

Some residents lined up two hours early for a prime spot to see the slow-moving, interstellar action.

On the other side of the bay, about 200 people visited the Foothill College Observatory in Los Altos Hills to see the show.

Saranya Seela, an 8-year-old girl from West San Jose, came with her mom.

“I was really curious how it would look,” said Saranya, who said she wants to be an astronomer or astrophysicist one day and marveled at the view through a telescope with a hydrogen alpha filter. “I was thinking how the path of totality would look too. It was kind of cool. I still didn’t understand how it was only a little away from being complete.”

The Mehta family from Mountain View also stopped by the Foothill Observatory.

Unable to find eclipse glasses because of the sudden demand, they looked online and learned how to make a viewer from a cereal box. Staring directly into the sun during an eclipse can cause eye damage, and with the excitement over the event nationally, eclipse glasses have been in short supply.

“It was cool to see the sun not in a circle but in a different shape,” said Myra Mehta, 10. “We didn’t have any special glasses, so we still wanted to see the solar eclipse but we wanted to make a fast and convenient version.”

The full effect of Monday’s total eclipse could only be experienced in what’s known as the path of totality — a 115-mile-wide band that ran northeast from Mexico’s Pacific coast through cloudy southwest Texas, past the heart of Indiana, over Major League Baseball fans gathered hours early in Cleveland, past Niagara Falls and through Maine into Canada. But only where the weather cooperated.

About 44 million people live within the track, and a couple hundred million more reside within 200 miles.

“This may be the most viewed astronomical event in history,” said National Air and Space Museum curator Teasel Muir-Harmony, standing outside the museum in Washington, awaiting a partial eclipse.

In the Bay Area, total solar eclipses — where day turns to night, stars come out, temperatures drop and birds stop singing — are extremely rare. The last one visible over San Francisco occurred 600 years ago, on June 26, 1424, according to NASA.

And the next one won’t happen until 228 years from now, on Dec. 31, 2252.

Monday’s event was the last total solar eclipse visible in the contiguous United States until Aug. 23, 2044. The next total solar eclipse that will be visible anywhere in California will occur on Aug. 12, 2045, according to NASA, following a path that includes far Northern California communities like Redding, before it moves across the nation to Florida.

Partial solar eclipses are much more common. In recent years, several other partial eclipses have captured the Bay Area’s imagination. One occurred in 2012 when the moon obscured 84% of the sun. Another unfolded in 2017, when 76% of the sun was covered.

Last October, a different type of solar eclipse, called a “ring of fire” or annular eclipse, where the moon obscures part of the sun but leaves a ring around it, was visible in the Bay Area. But only just briefly, as fog and clouds covered up much of the action.

The Bay Area News Group and the Associated Press contributed to this story.

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