All eyes were on the sky at the Denison Public Library Monday afternoon where visitors watched as the moon passed in front of the sun and created a partial solar eclipse. The celestial event darkened skies and dropped temperatures as a crowd of hundreds stood on the library lawn, snapped photos and watched through protective glasses and the lens of a telescope.
“It’s just phenomenal,” Denison Public Library Director Kimberly Bowen said. “I think it’s that mystery or it’s the fact that you don’t just see it every day. It’s just so rare. That in itself creates the feeling of excitement and that curiosity.”
The library staff teamed up with Rangers from Eisenhower State Park to host the watch party and, as visitors waited for the moment of the greatest coverage, they spent some time inside watching NASA broadcasts from other states, perused space-themed books and conducted science experiments. Those in attendance were also treated to a lunch of hot dogs, Sun Chips, Cosmic Brownies, Moon Pies and Tang. An estimated 2,500 people attended the event during its several hour run.
While the peak viewing window lasted only a matter of minutes, Bowen said the library staff spent many months getting everything in place, efforts which included applying for grants through NASA and securing the shipment of glasses that would protect gazers from the sun’s harmful rays.
“We’ve actually been working on this for about a year now,” Bowen said. “There’s been a lot of preparation”
But Bowen said the purpose of Monday’s eclipse party wasn’t just about seeing the moon pass in front of the sun. She said the goal was to get more members of the public interested in science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
“The STEM focus is very important,” Bowen said. “What we’re finding is that minorities and women, in particular, are not exposed to the STEM related careers. So we’re really trying to bring awareness to that and develop programming around that and space falls right in there.”
While Denison and the Texoma region didn’t fall in the path of total coverage — a swath which extended from Oregon to South Carolina — the area still saw 79-85 percent coverage, leaving only a sliver of the sun still exposed.
“Yes, it would be really neat to see it 100 percent in person, but just experiencing it at all is something that I think everybody, if given the opportunity, needs to step outside and look up,” Bowen said. “You can’t miss something like this.”
And Eisenhower State Park Ranger Kate Saling, who showed up with a few of her fellow rangers and a telescope to share, said she felt much the same way.
“It’s a pretty rare event,” Saling said. “You’re going to be headed to school and going to work for the rest of the year, but this is only happening today.”
Kevin Reynolds was well ahead of Saling’s advice and took a little time off work to attend the watch party with his young daughter and niece. He said his family had recently returned to Texoma after several days out on the road and after seeing how contagious the eclipse fever was in other parts of the country, he said they couldn’t help but look up.
“We were driving through the area where there was supposed to be totality a couple and the whole country just seems to be going crazy, so we just wanted to get in on the excitement,” Reynolds said.
With the next solar eclipse expected to take place in 2024, Reynolds said his girls would be much older by then, but he felt confident his family would dawn their glasses once again and look up.
“They should be sophomores and juniors at that age, but I’m sure we’ll get back together and watch it then.” Reynolds said.
Herald Democrat reporter Michael Hutchins contributed to this report.