Hundreds gather at ScienceWorks to view celestial spectacle
Protective glasses on and mouths agape, a crowd of onlookers had a perfect view of the “ring of fire” solar eclipse Saturday morning outside ScienceWorks Hands-On Museum in Ashland.
Around 400 visitors from around the Rogue Valley made their way to the museum to see the rare celestial sight, with the sun slowly shadowing the moon and forming a partial ring of light.
“We got really, really lucky, so thank you weather for participating and making sure this was great,” said Cora Sievert, operations director for ScienceWorks. “It was nice to see people enjoying this community event together.”
“It was cool, like a ring,” said 7-year-old Emma Dawson of Medford, viewing an eclipse for the first time in her life. “I liked it.”
Officially known as an annular eclipse, the event is similar to a total eclipse, except that the moon is farther away in its orbit around Earth, causing the “ring of fire” effect as the sun’s disk peaks out from behind the moon. When the moon is closer to the earth, it’s slightly larger as viewed from Earth, totally blocking the sun and creating a total eclipse.
While the eclipse was clearly visible around 9:18 a.m. in Ashland and other areas of Southern Oregon, ScienceWorks organizers feared the expected cloudy forecast would keep viewers from getting a proper gander.
“We were worried we wouldn’t have the best view, but our science advisory board went out and scoped everything out,” said Cynthia Salbato, a member of ScienceWorks’ board of directors.
A small crowd of around 50 people started to gather at 8 a.m., bringing lawn chairs, blankets and solar eclipse glasses to the museum’s outdoor field as they anticipated the eclipse’s arrival.
“We live close by and we wanted to come see the eclipse, it’s a one-in-a-lifetime (event),” said Ashland resident Tracy Bass. “And if we’re lucky, the sky is going to cooperate.”
More people filtered in as excitement and anxiety grew on whether or not they’d be able to actually see the annular eclipse for themselves.
“I saw online yesterday that ScienceWorks had an event, and we’re members so we registered real quick and wanted to see it,” said Nicole Fieguth, attending with her four kids.
Around 8:15 a.m., a large cloud moved in, blocking the view, but optimism remained in the field.
“I think since the clouds are so sparse, we’re going to get a view between the clouds,” said Jayson Wynkoop, attending with wife, Brydie, and son, Patrick. “It looks like it at least, that’s my hope.”
On whether he’d ever seen an eclipse, Patrick Wynkoop said, “no, never.”
With 100-plus attendees congregated in the field and looking eastward, hope remained for clear skies as the sun began to shine above the clouds.
“I think its going to be spectacular,” said Ashland resident and teacher Peter Daane. “We get to be at the start of this whole thing, because the path is coming right over the ocean, right over our zone here, so it’s in our kitchen.”
Then the moment came.
“I can see it, I can see it,” an onlooker proclaimed around 9 a.m.
With glasses on, the crowd of hundreds watched as the sun shadowed the moon, forming a “U” shape with the moon positioned slightly above.
Soon after, the “ring of fire” was visible for all to observe.
“It was stunning to see in person,” said Ashland resident Mary Williams. “I’m glad I came out.”
“What I love about the ‘ring of fire’ is how dramatic it is, and you can really see the moon and the sun together,” Salbato said.
Throughout the festivities, volunteers and staff with ScienceWorks offered food and drinks donated by Ashland Safeway, an indoor livestream from NASA showing the eclipse and an arts and crafts station for participants to make paper plate faces fitting their protective glasses.
“You take a paper plate and we’re creating this space for the glasses to stick through, and then kids and grown-ups get to decorate it however they like,” Salbato said. “We’ve got a rainbow running around right now, we’ve got a lion running around right now, we’ve got all kinds of decorations happening.”
Fitting with the solar theme, sun- and moon-themed tunes played throughout the event.
Watching from Talent, NASA solar system ambassador Colin White watched and snapped photos of the celestial event with a telescope and his phone camera.
“This is my first annular eclipse, it was really exciting to see this morning,” White said. “This is one of my hobbies that I really enjoy, so it’s nice to see the general public and younger people get so engrossed in this event.”
White often collaborates with the museum to present and provide space-related information, spreading his passion for science to museum visitors.
“I see my role in life as trying to get people in general and younger people into science, and this is an approachable way of doing it,” White said.
Beyond the awe of the solar eclipse, event organizers were thrilled to provide a space for the community to come together for the rare event.
“We were hopeful and very grateful that everything lined up and everyone had a great event together,” Sievert said. “It was up to the winds of weather and everything else, so I’m glad that this was the place people thought of to visit.”
“This is what we do, we’re into science and we are also into community,” Salbato said. “We love and appreciate our community, and we hope to be the place that they come to for these kinds of things.”
The space-related activities will continue for ScienceWorks as the museum will celebrate “International Observe the Moon Night,” featuring White, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 21, at ScienceWorks.
To learn more about the museum, visit scienceworksmuseum.org.