AURORA — Alan Ominsky told the crowd of excited eclipse-viewers gathered at the Southern Cayuga Planetarium and Observatory Monday afternoon about the time he traveled over 500 miles to see a total solar eclipse in 1979.

Ominsky, the planetarium’s director, and other eclipse chasers loaded up thousands of dollars worth of telescopes and other astronomy equipment into a bus to make the 12-hour trip from Minnesota to North Dakota.

“The sensation of being under a totally eclipsed sun is eerie, weird, amazing…It’s also very strange to see the sky go dark, but its still light out there on the horizons, Ominsky said, describing the experience as “otherworldly.”

Those who attended the eclipse-viewing party were able to watch NASA’s live footage of the eclipse from around the United States projected onto the planetarium’s dome. Although a total eclipse was not visible from Cayuga County, people were able to witness a partial eclipse in the area starting at around 1:15 p.m. Around an hour and 20 minutes later, the eclipse peaked in the area; the sun was around 70-percent eclipsed by the moon.

Some people brought eclipse glasses and homemade viewing devices made out of cereal boxes, tin foil and sheets of paper. Members of the Friends of the Planetarium committee set up a refracting telescope with a solar filter so people could safely view the eclipse close-up.

For many who attended the event, this was their first time witnessing a solar eclipse.

Anne Brazee, a retired second-grade teacher from the Auburn School District, said she used to bring her students to the planetarium for field trips and she was excited to come back with her eclipse glasses in tow to witness her first solar eclipse.

“It was very impressive,” Brazee said.

Southern Cayuga science teacher and Friends of the Planetarium Secretary Frank Benenati also witnessed his firs solar eclipse on Monday, although he said he has seen a lunar eclipse before.

“I think it’s wonderful to see all these people interested in such an astronomical event,” Benenati said.

Ominsky, who refers to himself as an “amateur astronomer” — he worked in the publishing industry — was on hand to answer people’s questions and explain some of the science behind the eclipse.

“I think its important (to get) people engaged with astronomy in general,” Ominsky said. “One thing I like about astronomy is it forces people to think about things in new ways because you’re dealing with forces and distances that are well beyond our experience. How do you grasp that? I’m still grasping.”

Staff writer Natalie Brophy can be reached at (315)282-2239 or Follow her on Twitter @brophy_natalie.

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