About 3,000 people flocked to the Maryland Science Center in Baltimore Monday to see the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in nearly a century.
Lines stretched out the front door as hundreds waited for their chance to get on the rooftop to peer through telescopes made safe for viewing through special filters. Some donned special glasses. Still others used viewers made from pizza boxes, index cards and coffee cups.
"It's the Super Bowl of astronomy,” said Samantha Blau, a program manager at the Science Center, adding that the eclipse would likely be the center’s busiest day of the year. “During the regular season people may not be paying attention, but everyone is paying attention today.”
It was an event America hasn’t experienced since 1918: the passage of a total solar eclipse across the continental United States
Across Maryland, thousands of people spent their afternoons outdoors — in parks and on rooftops — in hopes of seeing the sun mostly blocked by the moon. Other Marylanders hit the road, many to South Carolina, into the path where the moon completely blotted out the sun.
Monica and Fred Alvarado of Annapolis traveled south to sit on the green grass of the Columbia Fireflies minor league baseball park.
Far above them the moon passed in front of the sun, casting a direct shadow on the Earth for a couple of minutes.
The sky was a 360-degree sunset. Then it was twilight — in the middle of the day — and Venus shone brightly.
"Wow. … this is amazing," Fred Alvarado said.
"It was the best thing I've ever seen," Monica Alvarado said.
The view in Baltimore was dimmed by storm clouds, but the sun peeked out multiple times — partially blocked out by the moon. The eclipse in Baltimore reached about 80 percent, while a strip of the country running largely from Oregon through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Missouri, Tennessee and South Carolina saw a total eclipse.
Atop the Science Center, visitors looked upward, hoping the sun would peak out from between storm clouds. Whenever it did, cheers broke out.
Alex Madsen, 16, of Towson, came equipped with a viewer made out of a shoe box he tested in his backyard.
“It’s my first time ever seeing an eclipse,” he said. “It’s incredible because the sun is something like 400 times bigger than the moon, but the moon is 400 times closer to us.”
Looking through the shoe box, his mother, Lauren, exclaimed: “Oh, my God. Oh, it’s so pretty. That’s amazing. Who knew an UGGs box could be so valuable?”
Dr. Lisa Schocket, associate professor of ophthalmology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, cautioned those about to gaze upward about the dangers of staring directly into the sun.
It’s no more dangerous than another day, she said, but most folks don’t typically have reason to stare.
“We see solar burns more commonly under other conditions, like psychosis or drugs,” she said.
Dan Richman, a Johns Hopkins University biophysicist from Mt. Vernon, said he thinks the eclipse generated so much excitement because it reminded us of our place in the universe.
“We don’t usually think about the fact that we are standing on the surface of the planet and we are orbiting this huge extremely bright star,” he said. “We just experience the daily cycle. You just take it for granted. But this is a reminder than we are actually part of a solar system; we are out in space. ... We orbit the center of the galaxy at an unbelievable speed.”
The Earth moves around the sun at an estimated 66,000 miles per hour. The moon orbits the Earth at more than 2,000 miles per hour.
There are usually six or seven total solar eclipses per decade somewhere in the world. There are many more partial eclipses, when the moon does not fully cover the sun’s face, and annular solar eclipses, when the moon appears slightly smaller than the sun, creating an apparent “ring of fire” in the sky at the point of greatest eclipse.
On top of the Science Center, Baltimore Astronomical Society President Darryl Mason said it was his fifth time viewing at least a partial solar eclipse. He’s seen others in Antarctica, Argentina, Chili and Ecuador, he said.
“I like to see the diamond ring effect,” he said.
In Carroll County, residents greeted the eclipse Monday afternoon with exclamations of “Wow!” and “I see it!”
The eclipse began at 1:17 p.m. and reached its peak at 2:42 p.m.
“It looks like a Jack-o’ Lantern in the sky!” shouted Sebastian Isaza, 11, at the Carroll County Public Library’s Eldersburg branch.
Eldersburg library branch manager Nadine Rosendale said people started lining up for glasses at 9 a.m. Monday.
“We had 500 glasses to give away. At noon, we started giving out the glasses and they were gone in 20 minutes,” Rosendale said.
Amateur astronomer Skye Korzie, of Eldersburg, set up a Dobsonian telescope outside of the library to share his view with other observers.
“I’m a space nerd,” Korzie said. “I just wanted to see as much as I can and let other people see it too. I think it’s a good way to get little kids interested in science.”
The wait to get into Towson Library to score a pair of the hard-to-find glasses needed to safely watch the eclipse reminded Peggy Szczerbicki of waiting in line for books in the popular Harry Potter series.
More than 150 people snaked around the library’s spiral rotunda staircase Monday in hopes of snagging a pair of the cardboard spectacles.
After arriving at the Towson branch just as employees opened the doors at 9 a.m., Szczerbicki was first in line. The fourth grade teacher said she decided to come to the library after calling around to area stores for glasses and finding them all sold out.
“It’s the golden ticket,” Szczerbicki said.
In Harford County, Hannah Nigrin stepped up to the telescope manned by Harford County Astronomical Society president Rick Fensch, excited to see her first-ever solar eclipse.
The 18-year-old Harford Community College student later described a mix of emotions upon seeing the near-total eclipse. She was one of about 1,000 people who gathered in the parking lot of the community college’s observatory.
“It's very intimidating to look at, and it's awesome — it's very beautiful,” said Nigrin, a Bel Air resident.
More than 100 Howard Community College faculty, staff, students and their family members packed the front lawn of the school’s science, engineering and technology building for a glimpse of the solar eclipse.
As Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” played in the background, Luda Bard, a genetics and microbiology professor at the college, and her two children, Ari, 10, and Ammi, 7, smiled when they spotted the eclipse. The family arrived earlier in the afternoon so Ari and Ammi could make their own pinhole cameras out of shoe boxes, aluminum foil and duct tape.
“It’s very exciting,” said Bard, an Ellicott City resident. “My husband is an engineer and I’m a biologist, so we had a little bit of background to explain the science to the kids.”
Total solar eclipses will cross the continental United States twice more in the next 30 years, on April 8, 2024, and Aug. 12, 2045.
For those who missed Monday’s view, the path of totality for the 2024 eclipse will be only about 300 miles from Baltimore at its closest, visible from Texas to Maine. The 2045 eclipse will track from northern California to Florida.
Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Scott Dance, Margarita Cambest, Chase Cook, Michael Eben, David Anderson and Andrew Michaels contributed to this article.