We can predict the greatest solar eclipse of the century to the minute. Suburban weather, not so much.
Clouds teased the festive crowd of several hundred people watching the eclipse at a viewing event Monday on the campus of Palatine's Harper College. Sun-gazers, wearing special eclipse glasses, could see the moon creeping across the sun's surface, and then clouds would put an end to that show. But only for a minute or two. When the clouds parted at 1:19 p.m. to reveal the peak when the moon blocked 86 percent of the sun's surface, many viewers broke into polite applause. Even in college, an 86 percent is good for a grade of B-plus.
Others weren't impressed.
"I just didn't have any glasses, and I was waiting for my friend," said Nicholas Devuono, 19, of Rolling Meadows, who sat inside with his back against the window during the key part of the eclipse. Admitting that he'd be more inclined to turn his head and look up if the view were "comets or shooting stars," Devuono said, "It's bound to happen again, so I can see it then."
Having missed the eclipse mostly because of the timing of his class schedule, Ray Fusha, 18, of Palatine accepted an offer to catch a moment through the special eclipse glasses. "Yeah, I see it," he said, returning the glasses after a couple of seconds, noting that it did not have a profound effect on him. "There's life-changing things happening every day."
For others, though, the eclipse still packed a punch.
"It was like Pac-Man," said 9-year-old Aarav Purwar of Arlington Heights, who came to the Harper eclipse event with his dad, Ashish Purwar. "I want to see the moon cover up the sun completely with just a fire ring."
The boy understood that the suburbs weren't treated to a total eclipse as viewers experienced in southern Illinois, and the partly cloudy sky made the eclipse uneventful for anyone without viewing glasses. But he left happy.
"It looks like a skinny ring," Aarav said, describing the visible slice of the sun during the peak coverage. "It's like a candy cane."
Even putting on the glasses to look at the sun before the eclipse started had some value for Joshua George, 10, of Arlington Heights, who volunteered at the event with his mother, Shiny George, and 13-year-old sister, Joanna, of Arlington Heights. "It looks like the moon," said the boy, who read his copy of "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire" during cloudy periods.
"We probably won't get to do this again until we are much older," Joanna noted.
"This shows an interest in science, so I'm excited," said Shiny George, who teaches science, chemistry and biology at Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights.
"This is an event where everyone can do science," said Raeghan Graessle, a Harper physics instructor who coordinated the eclipse-viewing event as most of the astronomy department went downstate to watch. "It's the crowd. It's very uplifting."
In the diverse crowd of many colors, ethnicities and ages, people shared eclipse glasses, snacks and a few oohs and ahhs.
"It's fun to share the eclipse with people," said Laura Ryerson, a former Spanish teacher from Arlington Heights, who used a pair of binoculars, a tripod, cardboard and duct tape to build a pinhole camera that let people watch a projection of the eclipse on a cardboard screen. Her daughter, Katie, 11, and three of Katie's friends shared the contraption with everyone who passed.
"It's not matching my shirt yet, but it's getting there," said Marcia Becker, who sported an eclipse T-shirt and bought an eclipse shirt as a 72nd birthday gift for her friend, Jane Born, that read, "Make My Birthday Amazing Again."
"We wanted to be in a crowd, but we didn't want to do that kind of crowd in Carbondale," said Born, a retired teacher from Arlington Heights.
"This will be a memorable birthday, said Lisa Cassaidy of Mount Prospect, who watched the spectacle with her dad, Vincent Sanasardo of Arlington Heights. "What did I do when I turned 44? I watched the eclipse."