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Eclipse Pleases a Fraction of Skywatchers; Clouds Frustrate Others

January 5, 1992

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Airline crews and passengers saw the spectacle of a lifetime, but cloudy skies blotted out the weekend’s ring-shaped eclipse of the setting sun for many on the ground.

″It was quite an experience. ... It was unbelievable,″ said Capt. Bud Lofgren, an Alaska Airlines pilot.

His crew dictated a diary of the eclipse as the plane carried more than 130 passengers from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to San Francisco.

At 4:50 p.m. Saturday, ″a perfect ring of light″ appeared on Southern California’s horizon during the annular or central eclipse, according to the diary.

The moon’s shadow first touched Earth at sunrise Sunday west of the international date line, creating a conventional partial eclipse that made the moon look like it was taking a bite out of the sun.

The eclipse was blocked by clouds over northeastern Australia and the southern Philippines, but was briefly visible from Japan. About 100 people, mostly children, watched the moon eclipse a third of the sun from a science center in Tatebayashi, 43 miles northwest of Tokyo.

″The beauty of this experience will remain with these kids for a long time,″ said Toshio Komiya, the center’s director.

The lunar shadow raced eastward across the date line and the Pacific Ocean, creating the ″ring of fire″ eclipse at sunset Saturday in Southern California and a partial eclipse from the Rockies westward, including Hawaii.

It was seen by thousands of people who lined San Diego beaches and parts of Orange County. But thousands of others missed the show after bringing viewing filters, cameras, binoculars and telescopes to vista points that proved disappointing.

″This is like chicken in chicken soup: you can’t see it but you know it’s there,″ said Bob Stein, who was among the frustrated observers on Rim of the World Highway above San Bernardino.

On San Diego’s Mission Beach, retiree Rheo Pedersen said the ring eclipse ″looked like God was putting out a fire in the ocean.″

The ring eclipse, which blocked 82 percent of the sun’s surface and 92 percent of its diameter, happened because the moon is at the far point of its orbit around Earth and appeared too small to cause a total eclipse. The sun also appeared larger because it was closer to Earth than during a total eclipse.

Some 2,000 spectators watched the moon eclipse more than half the sun from the grounds of Bishop Museum in Honolulu. Clouds covered most areas of the West, but the partial eclipse was visible from Reno, Nev., and Seattle.

About 300 people traveled to Mount Wilson Observatory, a mile above Los Angeles in the San Gabriel Mountains, to see the ring eclipse. But fog and clouds blocked the view. Many built snowmen instead.

In the sky, Lofgren’s flight engineer, Dan Sullivan, wrote that 15 minutes after the ring effect, ″the sun is setting in the shape of a crescent moon, this being the most spectacular part of the eclipse.″

A few minutes later, ″the tip of the crescent sun is going below the horizon like a sword of light,″ he wrote.

Thousands of people jammed the grounds of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, where clouds ruined the view.

″It was as if there were no eclipse at all, I’m sorry to say,″ groaned observatory directory Edwin Krupp.

Annular eclipses happen at sunset every two or three years somewhere on Earth, but only once every 20,000 years or so at any specific location. The next ring eclipse will be visible May 10, 1994, from northern Mexico through Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, Michigan, New York state and eastern Canada.