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A Ringside Seat for Solar Eclipse

Astronomy: People flock to Griffith Observatory to watch the phenomenon.

June 11, 2002|BOB POOL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The crowd outside Griffith Observatory brightened as the sun dimmed Monday for the last solar eclipse that Los Angeles will experience for 10 years.

"Repent! The end is near!" Terry Lilly, a 40-year-old Hollywood photographer, shouted as the moon moved between the Earth and the sun, blocking nearly 75% of the sun's light.

Astronomy fans on the observatory steps banged pots and pans at 6:22 p.m., the moment of maximum eclipse, "to ward off evil spirits," observatory Director Ed Krupp joked.

But mostly the estimated 1,200 sky watchers were trying to ward off damage to their eyes from staring at the last solar eclipse visible in the United States until 2005. The next one that will darken Los Angeles skies will come in 2012.

Solar viewers ranged from ordinary to ornate. Lizette Villa, 10, of Atwater Village made hers from two 3-by-5 recipe cards--one with a pinhole poked in it. Next to her, Luis Ashelford, a Lawndale technical writer, focused a $15,000 brass telescope, an antique built in 1899.

Cal State Monterey Bay students Oleya Pearsal and James Boydston shared a $7 Solarama filter purchased for the eclipse. Observatory workers sold more than 700 of them Monday.

Boydston, who is majoring in world culture, said solar eclipses regularly scared those living in medieval Europe. "I don't know if anybody still feels that way today. I'm still pretty early in my studies," he said.

Tom Bache, a movie special effects technician from Sherman Oaks, used a welder's mask from work to protect his eyes. Manhattan Beach software systems manager Matthew Reiser fashioned a viewing screen from a mirror and a piece of cardboard. "I got the idea from the nasa.gov Web site," he said.

Joan Seidel, a stockbroker from Beverly Hills, held up a sheet of exposed X-ray film from a doctor's office to protect her eyes while a few steps away Jose Quinonez, a video editor from Burbank, peeked upward through a pane of window glass he had darkened with a candle.

"Humans can't duplicate the majesty of a solar eclipse. All of the amusement parks in the world can't compare," Charles Glasscock, a technical writer from San Fernando, said as he aimed his binoculars toward the sun and projected its image on a piece of paper for his 14-year-old son, Chris.

Ironically, those at what should have been the West's best eclipse viewing site, San Diego, didn't have to rely on eye-safety devices.

Clouds rolled in at 6 p.m. to provide a natural viewing filter for 100 people who gathered outside the Ruben H. Fleet Science Center.

Science center officials had ordered 5,000 pairs of solar viewers to sell on Monday. At $1 each, they were sold out by 1:20 p.m. "We're going to order 10,000 viewers for the next eclipse in 2012," said Cindy Pittman, spokesman for the center.

Visitor Mattias Pettersson, 33, of Sweden, was looking for a far-out solar experience. "I'm hoping for that scary moment when it gets real dark and everyone starts running around in circles screaming and crying," he joked.

*

Times staff writer Louis Sahagun in San Diego contributed to this report.

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