Thursday, May 30, 2024

Gatesville visitors and locals react to total eclipse

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Across Gatesville on April 8, thousands of people stared in awe as the sky momentarily darkened.

In the ballpark fields at the Sports Complex, a crowd of nearly 1,500 erupted in cheers and applause as the moon obscured the light from the sun.

Despite uncertain weather conditions, a total solar eclipse became visible between the clouds. Viewers shared their excitement about feeling the sudden drop in temperature and witnessing the sun’s glowing outer corona without special glasses.  

“It was way cooler than I thought,” Katja Saukkonen said. “I am a huge science fiction fan, and I thought nothing like the movies could happen on earth, but it happened.”

Saukkonen traveled all the way from Norway to witness her first total solar eclipse.

“I was looking for the best places in the path of totality and came around to Gatesville and I thought, ‘that's a cool name,’” Saukkonen said.

As the total eclipse crossed North America, millions of people from around the world flocked to areas within the path of totality.

Anysia Palmer and Othaliah Walcott made the last-minute decision to drive to Gatesville from Houston, which received only about 95% of coverage.

“Honestly, I can’t believe we made the decision to come out here. This is probably one of the coolest moments of my life,” Palmer said.

“This is the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen,” Walcott said. “I don’t think I could have ever imagined that this is what it was going to be like.”  

Heidi Viets and her daughter, Ruby Viets,10, traveled from Ontario, Canada to Los Angeles where they took a road trip all the way to Austin. Because of possible storms in Austin, Heidi said they decided to drive up to Gatesville that morning.

“We feel really lucky that we found this awesome gathering of people in the park,” Heidi said.

Ruby said she enjoyed watching her first total eclipse.

“When I first saw it, I was like, ‘I hope the clouds go away,’” Ruby said. “But it was so awesome.”

Andreas Ritters, who traveled with Ruby and Heidi, is an astrophysics researcher at The University of Hong Kong who experienced his fifth eclipse on Monday. 

“For me, it’s just one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen,” Ritters said. “The corona and the flares and prominences – you don’t see these ever.”

Gatesville locals also attended the viewing event, such as Sandy Vessels, who invited her niece from San Diego, California.

“It's pretty interesting. I’m glad we got to have it,” Vessels said. “We were worried about the clouds and everything we've been getting, but those seem to be getting out of the way. I'm more happy for my niece to be able to see it, because it means a lot to her.”

Karen Brown, another Gatesville resident, said they have been waiting for this moment for a long time.

“It’s wonderful to know that little Gatesville is now so popular, and all these people came so far to see us,” Brown said.

NASA ambassador Liam Finn helped guide observers through the different phases of the eclipse. Once the moon aligned with the sun and earth, he pointed out various aspects of totality.

“If you look around, you’ll see the 360 degrees sunset,” Finn said, directing everyone’s gazes to the horizon.

Finn also pointed out Venus, which appeared to the right of the total eclipse.

As part of the Eclipse LightSound Project, Finn also utilized a device among his equipment that played the eclipse to music, allowing those who are visually impaired to hear totality.   

“For anyone who is visually impaired, they can come over here and they can actually listen to the solar eclipse if (they) can’t see it,” Finn said.

Finn set up a screen on the field that projected the image of the sun, so people could watch phases of the eclipse without needing to look up at the sky.  Several visitors also set up their own telescopes throughout the field to get a closer look at the eclipse.

“Being able to see those prominences with your eyes and not needing a special scope is not something you get to do very often,” said Arica Flores of a total solar eclipse. Flores, who is president of the Ford Amateur Astronomy Club in Michigan, also answered questions about the eclipse with visitors.

The gathering at the Sports Complex was hosted by the Friends of the Gatesville Public Library. All proceeds from parking reservations will be donated to the library’s summer reading program.

“I am so impressed with how our community, and especially the city and volunteers, came out and showed support,” said Shea Harp, director of the Gatesville Public Library. “You could see how our community welcomed, essentially, the entire world into our city that day.”

The next total solar eclipse that will cross North America will be on Aug. 23, 2044.