Eclipse has Detroit area sungazers beaming

Stephanie Steinberg, and Francis X. Donnelly

The sky darkened. The temperature dropped. The sun was reduced to a halo.

Mae McMillian,67, of Detroit, and her twin granddaughters Skyy Smith, 12, and Harmony Smith, 12, view the eclipse at the Michigan Science Center on Monday.

It was goosebump time Monday as the Great American Eclipse fell over the country.

The celestial event of the century left tens of thousands of Metro Detroit residents thoroughly sated after watching from telescopes, cameras and cardboard-frame protective eyeglasses.

“It was totality awesome,” said Paulette Epstein, staff astronomer at the Michigan Science Center in Midtown Detroit.

For a few minutes, life came to a halt at work and home. Residents scrambled to fields, parking lots, parks and science centers to view the heavenly spectacle.

Skies weren’t clear all over southeast Michigan, but residents didn’t let a few clouds spoil the day. They happily settled for a partial eclipse that looked like a fiery crescent moon.

Viewers felt like they were watching history. This was the first total eclipse to cross the nation, from one gleaming coast to another, in 99 years.

About 80 percent of the eclipse was visible in Metro Detroit at its pinnacle as the moon crossed the sun for nearly three hours Monday afternoon.

Solar eclipses happen about every 18 months, Epstein said, but they’re often only visible from the ocean.

“For it to happen across the United States, that’s the exciting part,” she said. “It’s something we haven't seen in quite a while.”

As the eclipse reached its optimal viewing time in Metro Detroit at 2:27 p.m., toddlers to senior citizens crowded outside the Michigan Science Center and Cranbrook Institute of Science and turned their faces toward the sky. As expected, the temperature dropped slightly, and the wind picked up.

“All around us, the sun is shining, so that means there’s a little less heat load in our spot,” said Claude Pruneau, a physics and astronomy professor at Wayne State University, explaining those in the path of totality experienced more darkness and lower temperatures.

Eclipse watchers at Cranbrook Science Center watch a NASA livestream as clouds roll in outside, obscuring the eclipse.

Avi Malavalli, a 26-year-old WSU mechanical engineering graduate student, was just happy to witness the phenomenon. He said he’s never seen an event like this in India, where he’s from.

“We get to see lunar eclipses, but not solar eclipses,” he said packed in the Science Center crowd.

Nearby, 10-year-old West Bloomfield Township resident Noa BenEzra pointed her pinhole projector to create crescent moons on the cement. The eclipse only further motivated her to learn more about space.

“I want to be an astronaut,” she said. “I have a lot of ideas.”

Natasha Williams, 33, of Flint told her employer she might be a few minutes late to work. Her local planetarium held an event, but she said she wanted to be part of a large crowd, like the estimated 1,168 people the Science Center attracted by 3 p.m. Monday

“The glasses worked perfectly,” said Williams, after borrowing a pair of the hard-to-find solar shades. “What I liked most was the camaraderie among people who shared the glasses — and the cheering.”

Soaking in the last few minutes of the eclipse, Detroit resident Rebecca Chung, 51, sprawled on her back on the grass, wearing her black eclipse glasses.

“It was literally otherworldly,” said Chung, describing the peak moment at 2:27 p.m. “I was happy we got to see a great view in Detroit, and I wanted to experience something that was bigger than all of us.”

Troy residents Mark Yin, 10, from left, Matt Zhang, 10, Kiana Yin, 14, Jing Yin, Ying Zhang and Jingming Fan watch the eclipse at Cranbrook Science Center.

At the Cranbrook Institute of Science in Bloomfield Hills, 125 people waited in line to watch the eclipse from the observatory. Mike Narlock, Cranbrook’s astronomy head, tried to keep the line moving, but it was a struggle as people gaped at the spectacle.

“Oh, my God. Oh, my God. Oh, my God,” Pennie Michelin, 62, of Rochester, cried while looking through the telescope.

Afterward, she said it was a moving experience.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “I know I sound like a blithering idiot.”

At Cranbrook’s Institute of Science, visitors spread throughout the grounds, parking lots and around the fountain outside the entrance. Many people spilled out of the building just before 2:27 p.m. to witness the full eclipse, only to be disappointed when it was shrouded by clouds.

They cheered when, several minutes later, the sun peeked out from behind clouds but then moaned when it disappeared again.

Wendy Martling said she would have liked to have seen the total eclipse but was satisfied with the partial one.

“You don’t get to see it every day,” said the Davison resident, 43.

Wayne Neuser, 48, of Berkeley, brought his 9-year-old son, Nate, to the Michigan Science Center Monday.

But her son, Steve, 9, was less than impressed.

“It was small,” he said.

At the Michigan Science Center, 750 general admission tickets were sold by the time the eclipse started at 1:03 p.m.

Taking a look through glasses, Epstein got her first glimpse of the eclipse.

“Wow, it’s super cool!” she said.

Jessica Grabbe, 33, was first in line at 8 a.m. at the science center. She came prepared with coffee and books until her fellow musician at the Detroit Symphony Orchestra joined with homemade coffee cake.

Grabbe, a double bass player who lives nearby in Detroit, contemplated traveling somewhere to see the full eclipse but decided she can wait for the next total eclipse in the U.S. on April 8, 2024.

“That’ll be much closer to Michigan,” she said.

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Twitter: @Steph_Steinberg