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Solar eclipse rated ‘awesome’ by Sacramento-area viewers

Eclipse viewers use glasses, homemade gadgets

People gather around the Capitol to experience a partial solar eclipse with solar glasses and homemade gadgets on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, in Sacramento.
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People gather around the Capitol to experience a partial solar eclipse with solar glasses and homemade gadgets on Monday, Aug. 21, 2017, in Sacramento.

Necks craning skyward, Sacramento-area residents clustered on sidewalks and near windows Monday to witness the first total eclipse in the United States since 1979 and the first to cross the entire United States in 99 years.

The event had been hyped for weeks and although Sacramento didn’t experience the total eclipse, viewers said it lived up to its billing.

“I think it’s just incredible,” said Sarah Taylor, who organized a viewing party for her office at the California Environmental Protection Agency. “The (last) time this happened was before I was born. I’m kind of a space nerd, I think.”

Taylor said she bought welding glass and made a viewing device that she shared with colleagues who attended her party, held in the conference room on the top floor of her building in downtown Sacramento. Some people brought their own eclipse glasses and do-it-yourself viewing equipment, including cereal boxes.

At the maximum point, at 10:17 a.m., the scene in downtown Sacramento took on what some described as an “eerie” quality, like a cloudy, misty day. Those looking to protect their eyes and avoid gazing at the sky were able to view the eclipse in shadows on streets and sidewalks. Some viewers noted that it was dark enough to trigger sensors that turned on street lights.

People emerged from offices, including the State Capitol, to view the eclipse.

“Mommy, look at it!” yelled state Sen. Janet Nguyen’s 4-year-old son, Timothy.

The senator brought Timothy and son Tommy, 6, to Sacramento this week, and the boys were scheduled to join her on the Senate floor later Monday.

“How cool is it to see the eclipse at the Capitol?” Nguyen said.

Kids and adults were equally impressed by what they saw.

State Sens. Scott Wiener and Ben Allen stood together as they stared at the sun through protective viewing glasses.

“It’s so awesome,” remarked Allen. “So cool.”

“Can I take a picture?” asked state Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León, who joined them outside the Capitol a few moments later.

Hundreds of people descended on the Powerhouse Science Center on Auburn Boulevard in the Arden Arcade area to view the eclipse. The event sold out of eclipse glasses before it started, then ran out of materials for visitors to make their own glasses.

Staff members encouraged those attending to share with their neighbors, or view the eclipse through one of the half-dozen telescopes set up by members of the Sacramento Valley Astronomical Society.

“I’ve got my glasses,” said Rep. Ami Bera, speaking to the crowd. “What is really cool is the number of young people out here.”

While most people took in the eclipse from the parking lot and front entryway of the renamed science center – formerly the Discovery Museum Science and Space Center – ticketed guests also went inside to see the planetarium show.

Melanie Jensen, a spokeswoman for the center, said she was thrilled with the overcapacity turnout.

“It’s an incredible show, even if we’re not in the path of totality,” Jensen said.

With California’s increasing reliance on solar energy, there was some concern about how the eclipse would affect power generation. Despite a temporary drop-off in solar power, the state’s electricity supply breezed through the eclipse.

The Independent System Operator, which runs the state’s power grid from its Folsom headquarters, said the grid lost about 3,000 megawatts of solar power as the eclipse reached its zenith. But within an hour or so, solar generation had jumped back to normal levels.

“Solar came back dynamic, pretty dramatically,” said Eric Schmitt, the ISO’s vice president for operations.

State officials had asked Californians to conserve power during the eclipse, but relatively mild temperatures and an uptick in generation from other sources, including hydro and natural gas-powered plants, compensated for the downturn in solar power.

The Bee’s Taryn Luna, Dale Kasler, Ed Fletcher and Laura Sussman contributed to this report.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy.

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