A golden haze garnished the Cornell campus on Monday afternoon and crescent-shaped shadows painted the ground as thousands of Cornellians and Ithacans looked skyward at the first solar eclipse to pass solely over the United States in more than 240 years.
After months of media hype, science lessons and incessant warnings about looking at the bright orb without sunglasses, viewers of all ages gathered in groups small and large and tilted their heads upward to witness the feat of nature.
Revelers at Cornell’s Fuertes Observatory grew hot under the sun as they waited in line for sunglasses to protect their corneas. Some Ithacans downtown wondered whether the clouds would break or if locals would have to wait until 2024, when a solar eclipse’s path of totality will cross upstate New York.
But by 1:17 p.m., when the moon began to poke its edges into the sun’s rays, Ithaca’s skies cleared and Cornellians cheered.
“We got lucky,” Larry Kidder, a researcher in the Department of Astronomy, told The Sun near the observatory. “The cloud went away right at the correct time, so it’s been awesome so far.”
At Dewitt Park in downtown Ithaca, children sat cross-legged on the grass as grown-ups entertained them with stories, plays and songs as part of Solar Eclipse in the Park, hosted by the Tompkins County Public Library.
Library Assistant Kelly Doolittle said the library applied for a grant long in advance of the eclipse to receive the correct sunglasses so that childrens’ eyes were protected. The request required that the library host an event centered around viewing of the eclipse.
“I’m kind of a space nerd, and I enjoy seeing cosmic events,” Doolittle told The Sun. “It is very meaningful for kids to understand what the world really is around them and not just focus on computers and indoor activities.”
While many professors and students shared special viewing glasses among sweaty noses, others used cereal boxes and other items to view the sun’s reflection or considered novel ideas proposed by family members.
“My dad told me something about looking through a Ritz cracker is how you’re supposed to see it — some pinhole type thing,” Lisa Condluci ’19 said from the Arts Quad.
Leigh Scudder, grad, said he thought there must be a “weird, supernatural significance” to the eclipse because it was on the first day of graduate school.
“Science is cool, space is big, the sun’s important — so’s the moon,” he said. “It’s fun when they do this little dance together.”
But not everyone was satisfied with 70 percent coverage.
Asked if the eclipse had met expectations, Leena Morris ’19 said, “No. This is incredibly underwhelming, I would say.”
Morris said he was hoping the campus would be significantly darker, a sentiment echoed by several other students, but he was heartened by strangers who let him borrow their special glasses.
For many others, though, partial coverage was enough.
Naomi Fisher, who gazed at the rare alignment from Dewitt Park with her children, said she wanted to expose her children to the event at a young age, noting that her youngest child is about 18-months-old.
Chase Thomas ’19, whose friends had baked solar eclipse-themed cookies, was thrilled with the celestial convergence.
Coverage of 70 percent, Thomas said, “is definitely good enough for me,” adding that he was happy that so many people were “so excited about something so nerdy.”
“I’m sad it’s the day before classes,” Thomas said. If the timing had been different, he would have traveled to the path of totality, where the moon fully blocks the sun.
“But, oh well,” he said. “This is still good.”
Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs ’19 contributed reporting.