Janesville gets cloudy view of eclipse

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Neil Johnson
Monday, August 21, 2017

JANESVILLE—As nearly all of the sun slipped behind the moon Monday afternoon, Azaria Baldock, 9, and her three siblings peered up at the sky in awe.

Veiled behind a soup of gray clouds, a sliver of the sun revealed itself for a moment, shining like a bright, silvery crescent in a false dusk that seemed more like late evening than early afternoon.

It was 1:15 p.m. Monday, just a minute before Janesville's view of a near-total solar eclipse had reached its peak. The rainy sky had cleared long enough to catch a peek at it.

Baldock and her siblings hopped around the driveway of their Ruger Avenue home in glee and jockeyed for position next to their father as he made frantic adjustments to a video camera he had pointed at the sky. The children crowded around, pointing up at the sun.

“It looks like the Cheshire Cat's smile!” Azaria said.

Overcast skies threatened to block Rock County residents' view of the eclipse. For area residents lucky to catch a flicker of the eclipse, the sun did in fact have a Cheshire Cat quality as it waned, then waxed.

It would appear for a few moments from behind shaggy rain clouds, then disappear behind clouds again, only to reappear minutes later as a bright, grin-like crescent that seemed minute by minute to fold in on itself. Later, the sun's smile seemed to widen and yawn open until about 2:30 p.m., when it began to return to view as a completely full, un-eclipsed sun.

The eclipse brought residents in a thin swath of the United States their first view of a total solar eclipse since 1918.

Janesville's location in the northern hemisphere offered about an 85 percent view of the solar eclipse. It left visible just a sliver of the sun as the moon's orbit around earth and the earth's orbit around the sun aligned.

The whole thing happened in about two hours and 45 minutes.

Forest Park Boulevard resident Sandy Schenck caught an eclipse glimpse when the sun peeked from behind hazy clouds.

She didn't have a set of the popular eclipse glasses—the special paper and tinted plastic sunglasses experts claim are the only safe way to look directly at a solar eclipse without risking eye injury.

Instead, Schenck improvised.

“We made one of those boxes with the hole you put that's supposed to let you see the shadow of the eclipse without looking straight at the sun. That actually didn't work. We couldn't get it to line up right. I happened to look up, over my shoulder, and there it was. The eclipse,” Schenck said.

Retired Janesville middle school earth science teacher Randall Ryan was in his glory Monday afternoon. He was watching TV coverage of bits and pieces of the solar eclipse in its path across the United States and stealing glimpses of the eclipse in Janesville from his front porch on South Fremont Street.

Ryan had a pair of solar viewing glasses in his hand, which he shared with Dominique Beinemann.

Bienemann, a lawn-care specialist for a local company, had just finished Ryan's lawn. He looked at the sun as it popped out from behind clouds.

Ryan, reverting to science teacher mode, was speculating on the birds, which had begun to roost in the trees and were chattering in numbers. It was almost as if the eclipse had tricked the birds into thinking nightfall was near.

The sky had dimmed to a purplish gray, and a yellowish halo glimmered through the clouds in a large circle around the eclipsing sun. It created a ring of light that for a few moments seemed to expand to half the size of the sky.

Ryan said the sun halo was similar to a parhelion or “sundog,” a ring of light refraction that becomes visible around the sun during certain atmospheric conditions. Ryan wasn't sure whether the halo had more to do with the cloud cover over Janesville or if it was a phenomenon linked to the solar eclipse.

“It's really too bad school's not in session here right now because this eclipse would be a beautiful learning experience,” Ryan said.

Ryan said his son Paul Ryan had driven to Carbondale, Illinois, a city in far southern Illinois located within the ribbon where viewers of the solar eclipse Monday could view the sun completely slipping behind the moon for a few minutes, leaving only a corona—a thin phantasm of light that played around the circle of the sun's fully darkened disk.

In what might be called a name-recognition eclipse, Randall Ryan pointed out that his son Paul is not the Janesville-born U.S. House Speaker—he's just another Janesville native that happens to share the same name.

The other Paul Ryan, the Republican Congressman, was scheduled Monday night to hold a televised town hall in Racine. It wasn't immediately clear whether that Paul Ryan viewed the eclipse on Monday afternoon.

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