Kansas Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - April 19, 2024

It's a "Solar-bration!"

On April 8, I was one of the first to arrive at the Blue Earth Plaza on Manhattan's southeast edge. Inside the Flint Hills Discovery Center just to the north, staff members were teaching hands-on astronomy-themed activities to children and their parents about the soon-to-arrive solar eclipse - what they were calling a "Solar-bration." These included creating an interactive solar eclipse model, learning how shadows form and move with a light source, and making a star chart to identify constellations.

Outside, it was sunny and 71 degrees, with not a cloud in the sky and only a whisper of a breeze - perfect conditions for such an occasion.

I was as excited as the children! I had already purchased four pairs of special glasses, read numerous articles about the eclipse, and attended a session given by Kansas State University physics professor Chris Sorensen about a week earlier. I had fashioned four "pinhole cameras" out of card stock covered with aluminum foil. Husband Art helped by punching eighth-inch holes in the centers of each one. He teased me, calling me "his little scientist."

It wasn't my first solar eclipse. Daughter Mariya and I saw one on August 21, 2017. We rode in a bus that was part of a caravan that took some 500 people from Manhattan to Highland, Kansas. Although it was somewhat cloudy that day, we still saw enough "totality" that many dark-activated lights on buildings came on.

This time, I had invited friends Linda, Susan and Kay to join me a bit before noon. We chatted about this and that as others began to gather, claiming spots on the grass and large limestone "benches."

We were amused watching children climbing trees, blowing bubbles, running, chalking images on the sidewalks, launching miniature rockets and just being kids. While the adults were more subdued, there was a tangible excitement in the air. One couple put a blanket on the ground, lay down, and put on their eclipse glasses.

While the scientists said the "action" began where we were at about 12:40 p.m., it became noticeable about 1:20 or so. Manhattan had about 87 percent of totality, meaning it didn't get completely dark. But, using our glasses, we did see the crescent shapes as the moon made its way across the face of the sun. Sorensen said when his daughter, who was 8 at the time, saw the 1994 eclipse, she exclaimed, "Somebody's taken a bite out of the sun!" We heard similar comments from nearby children.

Unusual behavior has been noted among animals during an eclipse. We weren't sure if the appearance of a flock of turkey vultures swooping silently back and forth across the sky was such an occurrence or they were just looking for lunch. A friend in Lindsborg said the birds in his neighborhood became quite noisy.

As the eclipse progressed, the sky became a darker blue, and the air felt considerably cooler - enough for me to put on my sweatshirt and for the couple sprawled out on the grass to bring their blanket up around their shoulders.

Reporters from news outlets made their way through the crowd interviewing some and shooting video to accompany news stories. A few took photos of the sun using special filters on their cameras.

University students from Channel 8 interviewed Linda and me. They asked what we were doing with our pinhole cameras and why we decided to be there. I did a demonstration and said curiosity had brought me out.

The peak effect occurred at 1:51 p.m., prompting applause. Then most people gathered their belongings and made their way to their vehicles. I lingered to watch a bit longer. Solar eclipses aren't rare - they're just rare to any one particular area on Earth. The next one for this area won't happen until 2045 when I'll be 91 - if I'm around that long!

Even after returning home, I hadn't had enough, so I watched "CBS Evening News" with anchor Norah O'Donnell. O'Donnell had never seen an eclipse, and she was visibly thrilled. She said it was appropriate that the eclipse was on a Monday because Monday means "day of the moon." I read it comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Mōnandæg. Mōna is the word for moon in Old English.

O'Donnell said the eclipse brought in $6 billion in tourism dollars - to hotels, restaurants, and other businesses as people moved about for a better look. The totality swath was about 100 miles wide and crossed 15 states. One couple, whose daughter was born during the eclipse, named her Sol, which means "sun" in Spanish. Sol joined her big sister, Luna, which means "moon" in the same language.

The news also included comments from Bill Nye, "the science guy." He said the day was a perfect combination of PB&J - passion, beauty and joy.

Friend Mary was with her son Matt in Conway, Arkansas, where they were able to see the total eclipse. She said 50 couples were married during totality. With the moon blocking most of the sun's light, the corona and solar flares could be seen, creating a fiery wedding-ring effect in the sky.

Even many who were working were involved in the day's event. Art said he was in his work area when he noticed a strange pattern on a table. He was momentarily confused until he realized that the string holes in the window blinds had created a series of pinhole cameras, projecting a line of suns with a bite removed!

Friend Dave said he was able to get outside during part of it, and the company provided eclipse-themed treats for the staff to enjoy.

While the event was fleeting, it caused people to pause in their daily routines and come together to enjoy nature and each other. It truly was a "Solar-bration!"

Top (l-r): Sorensen at the Discovery Center; four people out in the sun too long? No, just me with friends Linda, Susan and Kay; eclipse fans of all ages at the plaza. Bottom (l-r): a youngster inspects the pinhole image of the eclipse on her hand; Linda demonstrates the pinhole camera as a TV cameraman records; top is sun pattern at Art's work on his desk on day after the eclipse (above) and during the eclipse (below), bottom shows most of sun blocked, allowing several solar flares to be seen; turkey vultures overhead during the eclipse. (sun-block image courtesy Mary Stamey, photographed by her son Matt.)

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