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Moon over the Mall: Creighton stops to take in solar eclipse

It was well past the breakfast hour Monday afternoon on Creighton University’s Skinner Mall, but Kelly McMorrow’s Multi-Grain Cheerios box was still a hot commodity.

A few days ago, as the celestial event billed as The Great American Eclipse approached, McMorrow, a junior biology major, went on NASA’s website and followed directions on creating her very own eclipse viewer with the box, a piece of aluminum foil and some white paper. Taking the top off the box and putting the paper in the bottom, she then put a small hole in the foil and covered the top of the box with that foil, leaving just enough room for a viewfinder. Looking through the viewfinder with her back to the sun during the eclipse, she had a perfect vantage of what was happening in the heavens.

“It is really cool,” McMorrow said at 12:55 p.m., about eight minutes before the eclipse over Creighton got to its darkest point — about 98 percent coverage of the sun, giving the atmosphere on the Mall a feeling of dusk. “It’s great to be out here with everyone and taking this in. This is something that’s been on my bucket list: see at least some portion of a total solar eclipse. So I built this and it’s fun to look through.”

While Omaha and Creighton lay just beyond the path of totality — that roughly 70-mile-wide band where the moon completely blocked out the sun — the effect in Omaha was palpable.

On the upper terrace at Reinert-Alumni Memorial Library, alumnus Swasti Pandey, MS’15, was taking photographs using a camera outfitted with a special screen for the lens. She’d traveled from San Diego, but the eclipse was really just an excuse.

Swasti Pandey, MS'15, takes shots of the solar eclipse over Creighton's campus, Aug. 21, 2017.“I missed Omaha and Creighton,” Pandey said as she sized up another shot — this one taken at about 20 percent of the moon covering the sun. “So when a friend called me up and said, ‘Hey, you know there’s this eclipse happening,’ I was there. I was thinking of going to Lincoln, where you might be able to see it better but I wanted to be on campus, feel all the nostalgia coming back.”

Not far from Pandey, two first-year Creighton School of Medicine students, Olivia Ochuba, BA’14, MS’15, and Spencer Shearer, were enjoying lunch and a small postponement of one of their labs.

“They pushed it back an hour so everyone could come watch,” Ochuba said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime event, so this seemed like a good spot to take it in. I’ll be interested to see what effect it might have on animals.”

Already, a few birds had begun to circle around the willow trees near the library. In the gathering dusk, it was thought animals might become confused and ready themselves for nightfall.

With about a half-hour to go before the darkest point, Ochuba and Shearer said they weren’t sure what, exactly, to expect, but knew they were going to witness one of nature’s rarities.

“On the news this week, they showed a clip from 1954, when the last eclipse passed over Nebraska,” Shearer said. “In the clip they said that the next one would be Aug. 21, 2017. I always think it’s incredible that they have these all pinpointed.”

A view of the solar eclipse over Creighton, Aug. 21, 2017.As the moment approached, McMorrow passed her contraption around among a few other students standing by. Each had a look and professed some version of what the wider assembly professed a few moments later as the eclipse reached its point of greatest occultation over Omaha.

“Is that it? Is that it?” was the repeated refrain, answered: “That’s it!”

Applause and cheers broke out up and down the Mall as the moon ran its strange course across the face of the sun and momentarily provided a gloaming sensation.

In front of the Harper Center, sophomores Alejandro Patino and Connor Kohles watched through the special eclipse-viewing glasses that have been mainstays in various retail outlets for the past month.

“It felt like sunset, which was pretty cool,” Kohles said. “I thought it might get darker, but still, to have that happen in the middle of the day is something you won’t see again for a while.”

A while — as in more than two centuries. The next time a total solar eclipse will be viewable from Omaha, the year will be 2245 — 228 years from now.

“I’m glad we came out for it,” Patino said. “We didn’t really plan it, but Connor had some glasses for me and we just had a seat here for it. It was great to see everyone watching.”

Back on Skinner Mall, McMorrow said her cereal box viewer played its role perfectly in reflecting the event.

“It worked really well,” she said. “And I can now say I’ve seen an eclipse!”

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