Thousands Turn Out for a Huge Party in Gaithersburg, Maryland …
The Excitement of an Eclipse!

Progress of the Eclipse

A blow-out party was held August 21st on the grounds of the Gaithersburg Latitude Observatory, just two blocks from Maryland 355, to celebrate the science and spectacle of an eclipse of the sun by the moon as it crossed over the United States. The eclipse itself ran between about 1:30 and 4:00 in the afternoon, but the excitement started much earlier, and covered much more ground in science as well as educational amusement for both children and adults.

This Solar Eclipse Party was sponsored by the Gaithersburg Community Museum, and planning was done by Karen Lottes, Program Coordinator at the museum. The Party was a success in large part because everyone jumped into the effort and provided something. The museum invited the Rockville Science Center to join their party, and the Center generously participated and provided volunteers and support. The excitement of the party was enhanced by STEM activities (see "Learning Science" below), and many were provided by the NISE Network in their Earth-Space Science Toolbox.

After the eclipse party, the Rockville Science Center followed up with a series of great pictures of the event, including a picture of the total eclipse.

Note: The above picture shows actual projections on a piece of paper of the eclipsed sun at periods of time between 1:40pm and 2:30pm. The projections were provided by a small inexpensive telescope and a piece of white paper clipped to a "Where's Waldo" book. It was provided by an inventive party-goer, working on their own, and ensured that anybody who happened to walk by could view the eclipse projected on the paper: a very democratic approach to eclipse viewing.


People lining up next to a sign that says Glasses Line Starts Here

Eclipse Viewing Safety Glasses — Hundreds of people came extra early to get special glasses to enable them to directly see the eclipse safely. Over 800 pairs of such glasses were available, and a long line of expectant eclipse watchers waited to get theirs. (Most of the glasses were provided free by the NASA Heliophysics Division.)

Line of people getting really long

It wasn’t long before the line of hopeful watchers expanded from hundreds to thousands. This picture shows the line before too many had shown up. Not long later, that line was going out the entrance gate. It was estimated that the crowd reached 3,500 adults and children who participated in the event and, it was hoped, even learned something.

Man explaining use of telescope to view the eclipse

Eclipse Viewing For Everyone — In spite of the huge number of eclipse-viewing glasses handed to the party goers, there were simply not enough glasses for everyone. Thankfully, the people attending the party were generous with each other and shared the glasses among themselves. There were also alternatives to the glasses. Dick Rhorer (shown here) and Malcolm Jennings volunteered to work together to set up telescopes with special filters for viewing the sun. These telescopes were hugely popular.
(Click here to see all the options available at the party for eclipse viewing.)

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People watching a live-feed video

Not missing the total eclipse — Events from the total eclipse were fed live to the Gaithersburg party, in case anyone thought they were missing out by not traveling hundreds of miles to see the full eclipse.


A Boy Scout demonstrates how planets are held by the gravity of the sun in a demonstration involving a ball and marbles on a stretched cloth

Learning Science — This party was not just about gawking at a spectacle. There were also opportunities to learn about science. Here kids saw how the earth revolves around the sun, held in place by gravity. Some of them wanted to know what gravity was: the question is the beginning of knowledge. In this picture, you can see the little green earths (marbles) revolving around the sun in the middle (the larger ball), which creates a gravity well, pulling objects toward it.
(Click here to see all the learning opportunities at the party..)


Two solar devices sitting on a park bench

Spontaneous Solar Exhibits — Some of the most interesting things there demonstrated ingenuity in using sunshine. In this picture, the pizza box with reflective lid held open with a stick demonstrated a solar oven, with the heat held in by clear plastic. It was just sitting there, quietly cooking hot dogs for someone’s lunch. Sitting next to the solar oven, was a great device, using a small telescope and a white sheet to project an image of the sun. In this way, many people at once could watch the spectacular event taking place. Other ways of viewing the eclipse allowed only one person at a time to view it.

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Information and Support — In addition to activity booths, there were also some information and party-support booths.


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  1. Lovely blog post. Very informative! Loved it.

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