All eyes on the sky for solar eclipse

Gabrielle Hernandez-Ortiz, 19, left, of Cross Junction, and Chris Collins, 20, right, of Purcellville, view the solar eclipse outside the Student Union Building at Lord Fairfax Community College in Middletown on Monday. Rich Cooley/Daily

MIDDLETOWN — Michael Thornhill, of Stephens City, set an alarm for Monday’s solar eclipse three years ago. When it finally happened, he was excited.

“I’m completely nerded out right now,” Thornhill said.

Thornhill left work early and took his 12-year-old son Zachary out of school so they could watch the eclipse at Lord Fairfax Community College, where Thornhill’s wife works.

“I more or less wanted him to experience it and see it because this is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” Thornhill said.

Thornhill himself last saw a partial solar eclipse when he was a kid, he said. But it wasn’t as close to being a total solar eclipse as Monday’s eclipse was.

Jane Maltby, 21, of Front Royal, holds her solar glasses as she views the eclipse at Lord Fairfax Community College. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I was like in third grade; it was just a partial eclipse,” Thornhill said. “It wasn’t nothing like what we’re seeing now.”

Thornhill was far from the only person standing outside at Lord Fairfax Community College’s Middletown campus in order to watch the eclipse. A number of people gathered outside even as it began to rain.

At least one professor had her students come out to see the eclipse. Professor Ann Simpson said that she felt she should give her students the chance to see an eclipse, even though they had their first day of anatomy and physiology class during the event.

“I realized some of the students are so young they’ve never gotten the chance to see an eclipse before,” Simpson said. “So I thought, even though we have class today, this is something that I think we can go outside and take a field trip outside and look at the eclipse.”

But Simpson felt that she had to justify taking the students outside for their first day of class.

Tracy Robertson, 47, of Winchester, looks at the eclipse through her solar glasses. Rich Cooley/Daily

“I kind of broke what we normally do and I got the eye model out,” Simpson said. “And I put out all the parts of the eye, and I showed them the retina. And I said, ‘Now, this is why you’re not supposed to look at the sun directly, since you might harm your retina.'”

She finished by telling the students to think about their retinas while they viewed the eclipse.

Other students clustered into groups of 10 and shared glasses that were donated to the college during the last week. Elizabeth Gorman, student life and engagement specialist at LFCC, said that she decided to have the event at the last minute.

“I just thought, this was the first day of classes and the eclipse is happening, so it just makes sense to perhaps scrounge up some glasses,” Gorman said.

She said that she reached out to science faculty and wound up getting 50 glasses donated for the event.

Shawn Williams, 18, of Front Royal, puts his sunglasses on his cellphone to try and catch an image of the eclipse. Rich Cooley/Daily

“Then we tried to order more because we got a lot of feedback about people wanting to come out and watch it, and by that point, there was no way to get more,” Gorman said.

In order to accommodate the number of people who were outside to view the event, the organizers decided to put people in groups of 10 and have them share the glasses.

Dianna Peachie, 20, of of Bealton, takes in the view with a smile outside the Student Union Building at Lord Fairfax Community College on Monday afternoon. Rich Cooley/Daily