Many residents across Highland County took a break from work, school or other activities Monday to gaze into the sky and observe the solar eclipse that covered much of the nation to varying degrees.
The eclipse began here around 1 p.m. and ended about three hours later, but the spectacle reached its maximum coverage locally at around 2:30 p.m.
It was the first full solar eclipse spanning the U.S. coast to coast in 99 years. But southern Ohio did not experience the eclipse in its totality, defined as 100 percent of the sun covered from view by the moon. That happened only along a narrow strip stretching from Oregon through the Midwestern plains, down to South Carolina.
Highland County and other parts of southern Ohio came close, with about 90-95 percent of the sun covered from view. Several who watched the eclipse here expressed surprise and even disappointment that the skies did not become darker during the event, even when the sun was mostly covered. Two or three minutes of total darkness only happened in parts of the country where the eclipse reach totality.
At Southern State Community College, staff and students gathered outside the front doors of the college to observe the eclipse, many brandishing special dark glasses, others using a glass from a welder’s mask, and still others making use of homemade cardboard viewer boxes.
Pockets of eclipse-watchers gathered in other parts of Hillsboro, as well as in villages around the county, some in organized fashion, others just randomly stepping outside to view the big event.
With 200 million people within a day’s drive from the parts of the nation where the eclipse reached totality, towns and parks in those areas saw big crowds. NASA reported 4.4 million people were watching its TV coverage midway through the eclipse, the biggest livestream event in the space agency’s history.
Astronomers were giddy with excitement. A solar eclipse is considered one of the grandest of cosmic spectacles.
NASA solar physicist Alex Young said the last time earthlings had a connection like this to the heavens was during man’s first flight to the moon, on Apollo 8 in 1968. The first, famous Earthrise photo came from that mission and, like this eclipse, showed us “we are part of something bigger.”
With a half hour to go before totality, NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, enjoyed the moon’s “first bites out of the sun” from a plane flying over the Oregon coast and declared it “just an incredible view.”
“I’m about to fight this man for a window seat,” Lightfoot said, referring to a fellow NASA official.
NASA’s planetary science director, Jim Green, a usually talkative sort, managed an “Oh, wow!” when totality arrived in Idaho Falls, Idaho, and shouted: “There’s Venus! There’s Venus!”
Hoping to learn more about the sun’s composition and activity, NASA and other scientists watched and analyzed from telescopes on the ground and in orbit, the International Space Station, airplanes and scores of high-altitude balloons beaming back live video.