At a quarter past five, the people in line outside Caltech’s Cahill Center for Astronomy and Astrophysics started to grow restless.
Terry Lindoerfer took his homemade pinhole camera — a medium-sized cardboard box with aluminum foil taped over a hole — and moved onto a sunny part of the sidewalk, inviting a few curious children to view a tiny reflection of a partial solar eclipse.
“Last time I made it in a box I could stand in,” said the 67-year-old Pasadena resident. “It was a little extreme.”
The university originally planned Sunday night’s solar eclipse viewing party for students, professors and others in the Caltech community, but hype for the astronomical event, fueled by the Internet, drew an estimated 700 people to the Pasadena campus.
Caltech had around 300 pairs of special glasses to look directly at the sun to view the eclipse. When the supply was gone, people crowded a craft table to make their own contraptions with tin foil and thick paper.
Erik Henriksen, a physicist at Caltech, made his last-minute eclipse viewer with a shoebox.
“I feel like I’m in the third grade again,” he said.
Still, the 36-year-old South Pasadena resident was satisfied with the result and said the solar eclipse is always an ‘impressive’ sight.
“I think any time it happens, you want to get out and check it out,” he said.
It was 1994 the last time a solar eclipse was visible from Southern California. Jackie Villadsen, a graduate student in astronomy who helped organize the event, said the rare occurrence of the moon aligning with the sun to create a ring or partial ring has always interested people.
“It’s something that only happens once or twice a decade here,” she said.
When the eclipse reached its peak around 6:34 p.m., the lawn behind Cahill was filled with people lounging in eclipse sunglasses and welding helmets and others peaking through telescopes and homemade devices.
“That was amazing,” said Anita Oudega after viewing the eclipse in a telescope.
Oudega, a 46-year-old Long Beach resident, said she could have viewed the eclipse from home but it was more memorable to make a trip out of it.
“What a perfect place to see it, at Caltech,” she said. “This is the astrophysics place in Southern California,” she said.