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Even with lack of totality, cosmic event stops NH in its tracks

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 21. 2017 8:36PM
Gayathri Menon of Merrimack, right, views the solar eclipse with her daughters Gargi, 11, from left, Gauri, 14, and Vidhu, 14, at the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center on Aug. 21, 2017. (DAVID LANE/UNION LEADER)

Some watched in amazement. Others were giddy. One man cried.

As the moon’s shadow slid across the sun Monday afternoon, Jared Hendricks had a different take.

“It looks like a big Pac-Man,” said Hendricks, 32, of Windham.

Hendricks was among the estimated 1,200 people who flocked to the McAuliffe-Shepard Discovery Center in Concord to view the “Great American Eclipse” with special glasses, handmade viewers and solar telescopes. Unlike some parts of the country, the eclipse didn’t reach totality in New Hampshire — about 62 percent of the sun was blocked by the moon’s shadow at 2:43 p.m.

“This is just the coolest thing,” said Heather Rydstrom of Windham. “I thought I was going to be working today, but I didn’t get a shift at Market Basket. I saw the event on Facebook, and I had to be here. With everything going on these days, it’s important to take a minute and just enjoy Earth and how the planets work, our place in the universe. It’s great to share something like this with everyone here.”

Julian Kouame of Dover, who moved to New Hampshire last December, said he saw a total eclipse as a young boy while living along Africa’s Ivory Coast. He said Monday’s partial eclipse was an experience he will “never forget.”

“The total one, I was very young and it was scary,” said Kouame. “It was a mystery what was happening. Now I understand what an eclipse is, and this one was amazing.”

Grace Mumford, 15, of Plymouth took in the celestial show wearing her father Chris’ welding mask.

“It doesn’t dim it a lot like the glasses do, but it works,” said Mumford.

Even those who showed up without special glasses or handmade devices caught glimpses of the heavenly game of peek-a-boo thanks to those who shared their viewers.

Andrew DiGiovanni, a science teacher at Lebanon High School who sits on the board of the New Hampshire Science Teachers Association, helped plan Monday’s event at the center.

“We’re pretty stoked about the attendance,” said DiGiovanni. “It was larger than we expected. When we were first discussing it with the center, they said on a good day they draw about 350 people. This looks like we’re breaking a record.”

Laura Nickerson, director of the UNH STEM Teachers’ Collaborative, invited folks to look at the crescent shadows the eclipse created through a colander she brought with her.

“If you look at the shadow it casts, you can see a whole bunch of little eclipses,” said Nickerson. “It works like the pinhole cameras the kids are carrying with them. Those are all little images of the sun you are seeing on the ground. It’s a hands-on way to experience it.”

Christine Senel of Auburn was celebrating her daughter Natalie’s second birthday a day early by viewing the eclipse in Concord. She declined to reveal how she arranged for a partial eclipse to coincide with her daughter’s birthday.

“I said ‘Work with me here, sun,’ and it did,” said Senel.

“It’s really cool,” said Isaac Senel, 8.

Emma Savage of Portsmouth celebrated her “Sweet 16” birthday 24 hours early at the eclipse party.

“I’m celebrating it today because I’ve always been wanting to see it,” said Savage. “It was super cool, cooler than I thought it would be.”

“She really wanted to go to South Carolina, but that wasn’t in the budget,” said mom Marybeth Savage. “She’s been talking about this for years, so we had to come here.”

DiGiovanni said he hopes the “nationwide buzz” about the eclipse helps spark renewed interest in science-related topics.

“I like that it really helps people relate, when they come to something like this they see it’s real,” said DiGiovanni. “They can watch it, take pictures of it. There’s so much participation through social media. A lot of people have never heard of a solar flare, never mind seen one. We made a lot of things happen here today, and I encourage people to take that feeling home with them and follow up on these topics.”

For anyone who missed the show, just wait until April 8, 2024. That’s when the next total solar eclipse will be seen in the United States; forecasters say New Hampshire will be in the path of totality.

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