Solar Eclipse Clouded by Disappointment : Astronomy: Some catch quick glimpses as the gloom clears. But mostly the event is one big celestial letdown.


Elizabeth Calder of Pasadena saw it straight overhead. David Corrick of Los Feliz found it by looking north. Lisa Ventura of Tujunga discovered it by looking west. James Strogen glimpsed it in Hollywood while gazing east. Howie Ngoy faced south to see it in San Gabriel.

People were looking out for themselves Tuesday as the last solar eclipse of the century was totally eclipsed over most of Los Angeles.

Instead of the moon blotting out the sun, clouds did it.

That meant Ngoy ended up watching the eclipse inside--on a television set in the south corner of his doughnut shop that he kept on during the two hours and 45 minutes that it took the moon to pass in front of the sun.

"It looks fine in here," said Ngoy, 29, of San Gabriel, gesturing toward the TV screen. "But what happened out there?"

It meant that amateur astronomers such as Strogen who traveled to the Griffith Observatory above Hollywood to view the spectacle had to act quickly to catch a few fleeting glances of the sun peeking weakly through the fog.

Most of the time there was nothing to see in the eastern sky. So Strogen, 46, a Van Nuys auto mechanic, trained his 10-inch homemade telescope toward objects on the ground to prove that the instrument was working.

It meant that thousands of schoolchildren such as 7-year-old Elizabeth of Jefferson Elementary School in Pasadena had to use their imaginations to see anything.

"I saw it! I saw it!" the first-grader exclaimed to classmates Oscar Miranda and Daniel Cazares as she pointed straight up. "It looked like a giant clip!"

It meant that movie prop maker Corrick, 29, had to rely on his sense of humor as he gazed north at the Eclipse Design and Fabrication Co. logo painted on the wall of the Echo Park firm.

"I've probably got the best eclipse view in town," he joked. "I got up early to see it. Of course, getting up early is a condition of my employment."

And it meant that the lucky few who found themselves in sunshine before the spectacle ended at 10:29 a.m. had to act fast to actually see the eclipse.

Ventura, 31, of Tujunga, was recycling soft drink cans outside a Lucky supermarket when her chance came. The sun was too bright to look directly at it. So she quickly poked a pinhole in a piece of cardboard so it projected an image of the eclipse on a piece of paper held to the west, away from the sun.

"My next-door neighbors went to El Paso to see this," she said. "You know, I could feel the eclipse starting because it got dark and gloomy and cold."

Scientists say El Paso should have been one of the stellar viewing spots Tuesday. It is within a 150-mile band stretching from Baja California to New England where the moon blotted out all but the sun's fiery rim.

In Los Angeles, about four-fifths of the sun was covered at the height of the eclipse at 9 a.m. If you could see it.

A handful of astronomy students at the Cal State Northridge observatory in Sylmar got a good look, even though some of their equipment remained damaged from January's earthquake.

But about 600 schoolchildren and 200 adults at the Griffith Observatory had to be quick to see anything when drifting clouds made the annular eclipse suddenly appear--and then just as suddenly fade away.

"It popped through the clouds a few times," said Bob Kline, 39, a graphic artist from Huntington Beach who had attached a camcorder to a telephoto lens hoping to record the eclipse. "But I certainly didn't run out of videotape--I guess that's the bright side."

Czernic Crute, a telephone technician from South-Central Los Angeles, brought along two telescopes. But there was no use for them.

"It never got bright enough to use our equipment," he said.

Griffith Observatory astronomer Patrick So stood holding a pair of king-size binoculars attached to a cone-like device designed to project the eclipse on a small screen. There was little call for that, either.

The sky was crystal-clear in Lancaster, where he lives, So said. In fact, clouds did not appear until he drove into Los Angeles shortly after dawn. He was tempted to turn around.

"But duty called and I came here," he said.

"Eclipses can be a hit-or-miss thing."

Down the hill from the observatory, things were not looking up for solar sunglasses salesman Roger Harrison. His $4 smoky lenses were supposed to protect the eyes of people looking into the sun.

"I've only sold 20 or 30," said Harrison, 42, of Glendora, looking as gloomy as the sky.

A passerby reminded him that the next solar eclipse visible in the United States would not occur until 2012.

"I'll be back," he said.

Times correspondent Jeff Schnauffer in Sylmar contributed to this story.


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