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Rare eclipse draws crowds of thousands across Utah (+video)

Published: Sunday, May 20 2012 10:19 p.m. MDT

The annular eclipse in a multiple exposure photograph as seen from Kanarravillle, Utah Sunday May 20, 2012.

Alan Neves, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The overcast horizon made the crowd gathered Sunday evening at the Gateway anxious whether they would get a good glimpse of the rare annular solar eclipse.

But to their relief the clouds parted off and on during the two-hour period that the moon passed over the sun.

"It's half!" said 7-year-old Nadeem Afridi, peering through an eclipse viewer. "The color is orange," exclaimed his 6-year-old brother Raheem when it was his turn.

The Afridis were among the thousands who watched the event throughout the state, many of whom gathered at the "sweet spot" in Kanarraville to see the full "ring of fire." Those gathered at the Gateway and throughout northern Utah viewed a crescent shaped sun.

More than 50 were present at The Gateway a half hour before the eclipse began. With eclipse glasses and viewers sold out at many stores, people congregated on the landing south of Olympic Legacy Plaza to peer through pinhole viewers and solar telescopes set up by Clark Planetarium and the University of Utah observatory.

Jennifer Bannick, of Orem, searched multiple stores for eclipse viewers or grade 14 welder's goggles, but without any luck.

"I went to Lowe's, they were sold out," she said. "I sent my son to Home Depot. I also went to the Clark Planetarium. I guess they're all sold out all over the state."

Bannick was grateful Clark Planetarium set up a viewing event. Before the eclipse began, Clark Planetarium employees let people view sunspots through the filtered telescopes. 

"I've known about it for a long time and I promised my son we'd see the eclipse," Bannick said.

The event at The Gateway was one of six set up along the Wasatch Front. Others were held at Weber State University, the University of Utah physics building, Library Square, Sam's Club in Murray and Dimple Dell Recreation Center in Sandy.

Some people said they had been waiting for the eclipse for years and are already planning for the next one.

"We're big astronomy buffs," said Hillary Hough, who came from Kaysville to look with her family. "As soon as I heard they were selling (eclipse viewers), I ran down and bought a bunch. We're already looking forward to the one in 2017."

The eclipse lasted from about 6:19 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. The crowd at the Gateway included hundreds as people sat on the stairs leading down to the plaza and passersby who stopped to look through the telescopes. Volunteers from the Civil Air Patrol passed out large index cards for people to poke holes in to safely view the eclipse.

"I wasn't expecting this many people," said Jessica Frew, a graduate student at the U. manning the school observatory's telescope. "There hasn't been an eclipse since I was in first grade, so this is a special thing."

Thousands of others traveled to Kanarraville, 13 miles south of Cedar City, for the best view of the eclipse — the "ring of fire" when the moon was encircled by the light of the sun. Cheers went up when the "circle of fire" appeared, and some began singing the Johnny Cash song "Ring of Fire."

The view in Kanarraville was so good that a Japanese television station, Fuji TV, came to film the eclipse and broadcast it across the Pacific for millions in Japan who couldn't see the eclipse due to overcast skies. John Dickson, from Santa Barbara, Calif., broadcast the eclipse himself on his cell phone for a friend in Texas.

"They can watch it thousands of miles away," he said.

Contributing: John Hollenhorst

E-mail: hschwarz@desnews.com

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