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Ferndale became 2017 eclipse viewing central in Whatcom County. And what a show it was

Ferndale eclipse crowd watches moon take bite out of sun

Police estimated 1,600 people gathered in a field next to the Ferndale Boys & Girls Club to watch a partial eclipse of the sun Monday morning, Aug. 21, 2017.
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Police estimated 1,600 people gathered in a field next to the Ferndale Boys & Girls Club to watch a partial eclipse of the sun Monday morning, Aug. 21, 2017.

Some 1,600 sun worshipers flocked to a field near Pioneer Park in Ferndale on Monday, many of them toting lawn chairs and wearing dark glasses on a brilliant summer morning.

But they weren’t there for a suntan. They wanted to see Monday’s near-total solar eclipse at a special event featuring a former NASA astronaut and a NASA scientist.

It’s exciting that so many children got to experience it. They built a lot of memories today.

Cathy Watson, Ferndale City Council member and former NASA meteorologist

“It might be the last one we’ll ever see,” said Joyce Zylstra of Lynden, who was watching with solar glasses as the moon slid across the sun’s face about 10 a.m. She said she and her husband Doc Zylstra, both retired, just celebrated their 59th wedding anniversary.

They’d seen other eclipses, but this one seemed more festive.

“It was a spur of the moment decision,” Zylstra said. “We thought that it would be fun to be where the people are.”

Ferndale City Council member Cathy Watson said for many people, Monday’s eclipse was a once-in-a-lifetime event. According to NASA mapping, Whatcom County residents saw approximately 87 percent of the sun’s face covered.

Want to see more of the eclipse? Go online to eclipse2017.nasa.gov.

Farther south in Seattle, as much as 92 percent of the sun was eclipsed. Parts of Oregon saw totality as the moon obscured the sun for a few moments.

“I think it’s wonderful that this many people are interested,” said Watson, a former NASA meteorologist. “It’s exciting that so many children got to experience it. They built a lot of memories today.”

joyce
Doc and Joyce Zylstra of Lynden were among the more than 1,500 people who attended a viewing party Monday near Pioneer Park in Ferndale. Robert Mittendorf rmittendorf@bhamherald.com

An official Ferndale Police crowd estimate was 1,600 people, said city spokesman Riley Sweeney. The event was a combined effort of the city, the Ferndale Library and Ferndale public schools. Sweeney said they’d expected a few hundred people would attend.

Main Street traffic was bumper-to-bumper and parking was at a premium in the area. Many in attendance were families with children, toting homemade solar-viewing boxes or wearing special glasses. Some in the crowd shared their glasses and viewers with those who didn’t have their own. Others brought special solar binoculars.

“Sometimes the crescent was at the bottom, sometimes it was at the top,” said Randi Sands of White Rock, B.C. “It was wonderful. I made a pinhole camera with our (to-go) coffee cup lids that worked well.”

Dozens of participants waited in line just to chat with Ferndale resident Wendy Lawrence, a retired astronaut and veteran of four space shuttle missions. Lawrence, a former Navy captain and helicopter pilot, has worked aboard the International Space Station and the former Russian space station Mir.

0821 Eclipse watchers2
Police estimated 1,600 people gathered in a field next to the Ferndale Boys & Girls Club to watch a partial eclipse of the sun Monday morning, Aug. 21, 2017. Philip A. Dwyer pdwyer@bhamherald.com

Using models of the solar system, Lawrence described how the moon passes in front of the sun – as seen from Earth – during an eclipse.

Daniel Connors,10, of Birch Bay, wanted to know what it takes to become an astronaut and was surprised to learn Lawrence held advanced degrees and had military experience, in addition to her 15 years with NASA. He asked if astronauts could see an eclipse from space.

“For them, all they’d see is a shadow sliding across the Earth,” Lawrence said.

Robert Mittendorf: 360-756-2805, @BhamMitty

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