After months of anticipation, the first total solar eclipse across the United States in almost four decades did not disappoint – even in areas with some cloud cover, such as Pensacola.
Hundreds gathered at the Planetarium at Pensacola State College to view something nobody in this country had seen since 1979.The moon began moving across the sun just after noon, with peak coverage roughly 82 percent at 1:37 p.m.
Retired PSC astronomer Wayne Wooten had a selection of telescopes on hand, including one antique model that dates back to the start of the Apollo space program.
“That I used to have a movie camera mounted on, to make a movie of the launch of Apollo-4,” said Wooten. “Which was the first time they used the Saturn V [rocket] with all the big boosters on the bottom.”
“It’s absolutely gorgeous, it’s a very unique thing to get to see,” said Cammie Yates. She and her family traveled to PSC from Allentown. The eclipse occurred one day before her daughter’s birthday.
“We’ve been planning on watching it ever since the news starting reporting on it a few months ago; it’s beautiful,” said Autumn. “We always see crescent moons, but we don’t see crescent suns; so it was really kind of cool.”
Wooten is hoping that the solar eclipse of 2017, along with lesser eclipses in 2023 and 2024, will help re-kindle interest in science in general, and the skies in particular.
“The beauty of the eclipse; the corona is just awesomely beautiful,” Wooten said. “They’re going to be telling their grandchildren about it 50-60 years from now. It reminds them of how things change in the sky.”
Echoing Wooten was one of his former students, Sheryl Williams, who studied astronomy at what was then called Pensacola Junior College.
“If you can even halfway comprehend the millions and millions and millions of stars in our galaxy, it will deepen your understanding with so many more things in your life – across the board,” Williams said.
Wooten echoes his former student’s contention, that if you can get a grasp of the heavens, you can gain new understanding of Earth.
“You learn science, you learn the rules, you learn how they apply,” Wooten said. “And you can comprehend nature, you can cope with things like pollution and learn how to deal with nature and mankind more reasonably.”
In 2023, an “annular” eclipse, where the sun leaves a “ring of fire” around the moon, will be seen in the western and southwestern United States on October 14. The country's next total solar eclipse is April 8, 2024. And for real die-hards, an eclipse similar to Monday’s will be seen on August 12, 2045, with totality a few hundred miles to the south of Monday's area.