Residents all over San Antonio poured into streets and onto rooftops Monday to witness the “Great American Eclipse,” the first solar eclipse visible across the entire contiguous United States since 1918. While San Antonio wasn’t in the path of totality, locals and visitors didn’t miss the chance to take in the partial eclipse.
In light of the historic event, San Antonio College (SAC) hosted a viewing party at its Scobee Education Center. Attendees enjoyed information booths, food stands, and other engaging activities fit for children and adults alike.
“[Volunteers arrived] before 8 a.m. to set up tables and booths and get everybody organized so we could open the doors at 11:30 a.m.,” SAC Student Government President Kayla Salwey said.
Volunteers distributed 1,500 solar eclipse glasses inside the education center, and thousands of visitors lined up along San Pedro Avenue in hopes of nabbing one of the free pairs. Some left the line to purchase glasses from scalpers who were selling them in the parking lot for $10 a pair.
In addition to distributing glasses, volunteers raffled off the unique opportunity to see the partial eclipse through a 10-inch refracting telescope inside the Scobee Center’s observatory.
“At the end of my telescope I have a high density solar filter to make sure that nobody damages their eyes,” Planetarium Coordinator Michelle Risse said. “The one thing you do not look at the sun with is a telescope – Unless you have a solar filter.”
Among the lucky viewers was State Sen. José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), who brought his family to observe the eclipse.
“I was listening to NPR this morning, and I heard that they were going to do this and I thought, ‘Why not come down to SAC and just spend time with the family?’” Menéndez said. “I felt like it was a community event, and why not come together here? I didn’t know they were doing this on the rooftop.”
After viewing the eclipse inside the observatory, raffle winners headed up to the Powell Star Deck, which accommodates up to 50 guests, usually for star gazing experiences. At exactly 1:09 p.m., the partial eclipse reached its totality in San Antonio.
“They had a filter on the telescope, and it was really a large image where the moon was blocking out the sun,” said Rod Cezeaux, viewing his first-ever solar eclipse. “But I really preferred to see it through the glasses because you could get a better perspective of it.”
Risse hopes that the Scobee Education Center will be able to provide more glasses, activities, and viewing opportunities in 2024, when San Antonio will see a total solar eclipse. Still, she was thrilled to share the astronomical experience with community members.
“It’s being able to connect space down to Earth,” Risse said. “Many people just see the sun as a light source in the day when in actuality it’s our star, and you get to see the moon go across it, so you actually get to see an astronomical event in your lifetime.
“I get a thrill from seeing people amazed about something I’m amazed about. It stirs my enthusiasm,” she added.
People all over the city gathered to view the eclipse: Mayor Ron Nirenberg held his staff meeting on Paramour’s rooftop patio while Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” and Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart” played in the background. Visitors at the Pearl peered through homemade pinhole viewers, then cooled off with ice cream and cold beverages. Bikers and runners on the Mission Trail interrupted their outdoor activities to take in the momentous occasion, and employees working in the Rand Building – home to Geekdom and the Rivard Report, among others – contributed to what Reuters estimated would be $700 million in lost productivity nationwide.
Eighth-graders at Harris Middle School in SAISD took a 10-minute break from their science class to view the beginning of the eclipse using solar glasses and a variety of homemade pinhole viewing devices. Students concurred that the glasses were the best way to see the eclipse.
School administrators made every student at Harris sign a contract not to look up at the sun without protecting their eyes during their lunch period.
Bekah McNeel, Hanna Oberhofer, Rocío Guenther, and Iris Gonzalez contributed to this report.