'Ring of Fire' eclipse dazzles Northern California onlookers

6:41 AM, May 21, 2012   |    comments
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Photo Gallery: PHOTOS: Eclipse - Cooler than the 'Twilight' movie
Photo courtesy of Dan Gerhardt

EMIGRANT GAP, CA - Northern Californians gathered Sunday evening to watch the Earth's first annular eclipse since 1994.

During an annular eclipse, the moon moves across the face of the sun, forming a momentary fiery ring - if you are watching from the right place.

PHOTOS: Eclipse cooler than Twilight movie

In California, people looked skyward in a line that ran northwest to southeast across the north portion of the state, passing through Redding to Lassen National Park, across the northern Sierra and over Reno and into Nevada.

"Never before an annular - and since we're so close now, I couldn't help but come up a few miles to see this, too," said Mike Nehl of Folsom, who once flew to Baja to see a total eclipse.

Nehl was among a group of about 50 people who watched the eclipse from Emigrant Gap, using special lenses, welders goggles, and various homemade contraptions to safely observe the phenomenon.

As the moon's shadow began to spread across the area, a small part of the sun appeared to blacken, and in less than an hour, the moon's shadow made it appear to be centered inside the Sun.

"I thought it was really beautiful. It was fascinating seeing the sun because I've never seen anything like it, it was just really cool," said Julie Nehl, an 8th grade student from Folsom.

At Emigrant Gap, people shared glasses, and gathered in small knots to watch as the sun's image was cast onto paper by pairs of binoculars or pinholes in paper.

Others made circles with their hands to cast shadows of the Moon darkening the Sun's face.

At the peak of the eclipse, the light dimmed almost eerily, making it seem as though evening had arrived early.

"It became very dramatic. And especially during the ring of fire part...it made the shadows longer, it looked like it was later in the day," said Jamila Dearnaley, who came all the way from Santa Cruz.

Teacher Lourie Boren flew down from Seattle to watch the eclipse and promised to bring a first-hand account back to her students.

"They're jealous, for sure. I don't blame them. It's raining up there...they don't even get to see it today," Boren mused as she prepared to watch.

The moon appears almost the same size as the sun because, although it is 400 times smaller, it is also 400 times closer to Earth. The moon is nearly 300,000 miles away. The sun is 93 million miles away.

Lou Wittkopp of Hayward recalled when his great grandmother thought the world was ending when he saw his last eclipse in the Bay Area back in the 1940's.

"The end of the world - no more - and that scared the devil out of us little kids, you know, 6-7 years old," Wittkopp remembered.

When it was over, no one seemed to come away disappointed.

"Delivered everything as promised. It was the ring of fire!" said Jeff McKnight of Oakland.


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