An overflow crowd of more than 6,000 cheered at Liberty Science Center as the sun slowly slid behind the moon Monday afternoon, hitting maximum coverage at 2:44 p.m. People peered up at the shadowed sun through special eclipse glasses designed to protect their eyes and goggled.
“That’s a good shot right there, you can see the moon totally.” gushed Jersey City resident Pam Kent.
For many folks, this solar eclipse was a first, and as outdoors dimmed into an eerie-looking twilight, some felt overcome by emotion to see 71 percent of the sun’s disk blotted out.
People checked out the eclipse through telescopes. Meanwhile, everyone struggled to describe what they were seeing:
Luvys Denao: “Well, it looks like somebody took a giant bite out of the sun. Like a cookie.”
Reporter: “What do you think?”
Greta Knoth: “Pretty cool! Really cool. We’ll never see it again in our lifetime. Not my lifetime.”
Will Knoth: “I like it!”
Will Knoth: “Cause it looks like someone took a bite out of a pizza!
Reporter: “Big bite out of a pizza? You’ve got lunch on your mind.”
Will Knoth: “Yeah.”
Reporter: “You’ve also got it on your face.”
Megan Ross: “It’s just exciting to be here and exciting to see it.”
In a show-and-tell session before the eclipse, the science center’s STEM expert explained the mechanics. As the moon briefly passes in perfect alignment between the earth and the sun, the moon casts a cone of shadow that slides across the earth in an arc of darkness.
“The area where the moon is completely covering the sun we call the umbra, that’s the darkest portion this time around,” explained Andrew Yolleck, a STEM Educator at the Liberty Science Center. “That’s about a 70-mile-wide line that’s making its way from Oregon to South Carolina.”
As the moon’s shadow traveled that so-called ‘Path of Totality’ in a long curve across the country, New Jersey sat well north of totality. But, we still experienced an impressive eclipse ranging from 71 percent to 77 percent coverage.
“And the closer you are to the center of that 70-mile-wide line, the longer the total eclipse will last,” said Yolleck. “The longest one will last, somewhere in Carbondale, Illinois, will last two and a half minutes, roughly. It will get completely pitch black and the temperature will significantly drop as well.”
Across the country, people went a little eclipse-crazy, selling moon pancakes, moon pies, sun bananas and Krispy Kreme eclipse donuts. For Liberty Science Center, this was a chance to score some great public relations and maybe set some kids on the path to careers in science.
“We probably have 6,000 to 7,000 people here,” said Paul Hoffman, LSC’s President and CEO, “This is the largest attendance I’ve ever seen and it’s great because the Great American Eclipse, the last time an eclipse went all the way across the continental US, it was 99 years ago. So this truly is a once in a lifetime event.”
Standing in the moon’s shadow is a relatively rare experience here. The paths of most solar eclipses track over oceans and other continents. New Jersey won’t see another one of these until April 2024.