Lowell Observatory put on not one but two events for the eclipse on Monday, one at its Flagstaff campus and another in Madras, Oregon, which was in the path of totality.
Kevin Schindler, Lowell’s historian, was at the Madras event, which he said was surprisingly calm compared to the traffic jams and overwhelming crowds that were predicted at some places.
There was excitement, yes, but it was never chaotic, Schindler said.
An estimated 3,000 to 4,000 people staked out spots in the Madras High School football field and surrounding bleachers for Lowell’s event, Schindler said. The buzz and excitement started to build as the moon began to cover more than half of the sun, while the sports scoreboard displayed a countdown to totality, he said. With 10 seconds to go, the entire crowd started to count down, then cheered as the moon came into direct alignment with the sun.
“It was eerie because it was noticeably getting darker and suddenly the sun went out. It was really fast,” Schindler said. The crowd got quieter as the two minutes of totality ticked by, with some people whispering to each other and others getting misty-eyed, he said.
The sudden switch from day to darkness was what made the experience both dramatic and surreal, he said. Totality wasn’t exactly like nighttime though, Schindler said. While the temperature dropped an estimated 20 degrees, the horizon was lit up in all directions and it wasn’t as dark as night, he said.
“You get chills because of the temperature and then you get the chills because of what you’re seeing. It’s a neat experience,” Schindler said. “It’s the fastest two minutes and two seconds in your life."
Throughout the event, Lowell’s Director Jeff Hall and astronomer Gerard van Belle provided commentary and explanation along with a host from the Science Channel, which was broadcasting the event live.
Smoke from wildfires, which had been a concern, didn’t affect the eclipse viewing experience at all, though it may have made some stars harder to see, Schindler said.
Walking around the field after the event, Schindler said there were several instances when he heard “Let’s do it again!”
FALA IN MADRAS, TOO
A group of 12 FALA students drove two days to Madras to take part in Lowell Observatory's eclipse party in the path of totality.
The students set up and ran a display about space time warpage for the crowds who came out to experience the eclipse in the path of totality. In their down time they rewrote “Total Eclipse of the Heart” adding lyrics like, “Turn around bright sun. Every now and then I get a little bit nervous that the best of the umbra has passed.”
FALA senior Diego Toledo on Monday before the eclipse said he was having fun and was excited to explain how light from two stars will be visible bending around the sun during totality.
“I’m glad to be here,” he said. “I’m imagining (at totality) everyone is going to stop and look up and it’s going to be super cool.”
On the phone immediately after totality, senior Sophia Capalby confirmed that it was, in fact, super cool.
“It was… I... It was so amazing. I can’t... Oh my god,” she said.
She said a timer marked the seconds until totality while the crowd on the football field joined the countdown. Then the clock hit zero.
“Everyone was screaming and ripped off the eclipse glasses. You could see the corona and the rays shooting out. It was the shortest two minutes of my life. Totally worth driving two days. I want to see one again. I want to go again. We’re all now walking around in various levels of stupor. “
NAU IN IDAHO
One state over from Oregon but also in the path of totality, another Flagstaff group put on its own eclipse event. Students with the Northern Arizona University Astronomy Club brought telescopes and put on activities at Land of Yankee Fork State Park in central Idaho. The group’s event was a much smaller affair, with students estimating a couple hundred people came out to see the full eclipse.
There was an almost creepy silence in the moments leading up to the eclipse, but once totality hit everyone started hollering and cheering and became really lively, NAU student Kaitlin Farley said.
Amanda Binkley said what stuck out most from the experience was being able to share such a memorable event with a close group and with the nearby town of Challis.
“(The eclipse) allowed people from all over to connect under one event and that was really special,” Binkley said.
Community Editor Abigail Gripman contributed to this story.
Emery Cowan can be reached at (928) 556-2250 or firstname.lastname@example.org