By Tim Schrag

The Hutchinson News

Despite the partly overcast skies, there was a crowd in the parking lot of the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center to view Thursday's partial solar eclipse.

"You got any ideas to make these clouds go away?" Brad Nuest, space and science educator for the museum, asked the crowd.

More than 100 people filed into the parking lot Thursday afternoon in a come-and-go fashion to view the eclipse.

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes in front of the sun, casting its shadow onto the Earth and blocking a portion of the sun from view. Earlier this month a lunar eclipse occurred, creating what is called a "Blood Moon." Nuest said it is very rare to see the two events so close together. A lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly into Earth's shadow. The reddish appearance the moon begins to take on is because of sunlight being bent by the atmosphere.

"It's an extraordinary occurrence," he said.

Solar eclipses are more often harder to witness because the moon casts a much smaller shadow, Nuest said. This makes a complete solar eclipse extremely rare.

Solar eclipses are dangerous to look at with the naked eye. The Cosmosphere had an 11-inch astrometry telescope, with a special filter for viewing the sun, available for public to view the eclipse on. Additionally, the Cosmosphere handed out several sets of goggles to view the event.

Nuest told the crowd viewing the eclipse to pay attention to the sun spots, which are colder areas on the sun. Sun spots are often many times the size of the Earth, he said. Nuest and several other educators were present to take questions from the public and assist them in the viewing.

As the sun peeked in and out of the clouds, the crowd had the opportunity to view the eclipse for a few moments. Nuest said he wished the weather would have been more cooperative.

Noah Souza, 14, and his mother, Paula, were two of the lucky few able to view the eclipse when the cloud cover vanished. The Souzas were able to view the eclipse with both the telescope and the goggles.

"What was really cool was you could see the sun spots," Noah said in regard to viewing the eclipse on the telescope. "I just happened to be at the right spot at the right time."

Both of the Souzas said they preferred viewing the blood moon. They both enjoy stargazing. Paula volunteers at the Cosmosphere and Noah has an astronomy app he uses frequently.

When Damian Herd, 11, first learned about the eclipse, it was all he could talk about. He had never experienced one.

"It looked like Pac-Man," he said with a smile. "It's really neat."

Damian was accompanied to the event by his aunt, Melinda Herd. Melinda tried to do research before taking Damian to view the eclipse. Melinda said she enjoys helping Damian learn new things.

"If it has to do with nature, the Earth or history, he's totally down for it," she said.

In addition to the general public, a Cosmosphere KAOS Camp for deaf children was in attendance from Nebraska.

Barb Farrell, the camp's director, said it was great timing for the overlap of the two events. Farrell also said the Cosmosphere has begun to make a push to shift the focus at the museum back to education and fun.

"If Brad has an opportunity to bring out his telescope and share it with the public he will and that's what we want," Farrell said.

(c)2014 The Hutchinson News