When Fletcher Cockel was 2 years old in 2015, he asked his mother why the moon changed shapes.

That’s when Woodway resident Kate Cockel’s children’s love for space began.

“I tried to explain it to him and he said, ‘I’m going to go ask dad,’” she said with a laugh. “From that moment on, I have not been the expert. I think we’ve read every book on space. We were members of the planetarium in Chicago so we would go all the time.”

The family moved to Woodway from Chicago three weeks ago, and Kate Cockel said she happened to see a sign last week at the Hewitt Public Library for an event during the partial solar eclipse.

She said she was not only excited to so quickly find a way to watch the eclipse, but also for her family to be part of their first community event.

Cockel and the now-4-year-old Fletcher, along with Fletcher’s 3-year-old sibling Gilead, joined a packed library that forced residents into overflow parking in the adjacent field as community excitement built to see the eclipse.

“They love space, so we’ve been counting down to this day for maybe a year,” she said.

The Hewitt Public Library was one of several area locations Monday to host events during the day leading up to the eclipse.

Home school started Monday for Adalyn Newton, 7, who spent her morning learning about the solar eclipse. By lunch, she and her family were at the Hewitt Public Library, ready to see the lesson plan come to life.

“It’s when the moon covers the sun,” Adalyn correctly noted.

While parents and children made pinhole projectors to look at the solar eclipse, members of the Central Texas Astronomical Society set up two telescopes to watch the event unfold.

One was a Schmidt Cassegrain telescope, which is a reflector and uses two mirrors, that was fitted with a solar filter to allow guests a safe way to view the sun. The other telescope was a refractor, which projected the image onto a screen to allow multiple people to view the eclipse at the same time.

Astronomical society lead coordinator Johnny Barton said he’s been a member of the group since its inception in 1993. However, he’s been involved in amateur astronomy since the late 1970s.

“Astronomy is the only science that amateurs can actually do real science,” he said.

Alejandro Lujan, 10, of Robinson, said he’s never been much of a fan of the moon or space but the eclipse could change his mind.

“I’ve never seen it before. I think it’s probably going to be amazing,” Alejandro said of the eclipse.

Robinson resident Rebecca Mahan said she regularly brings her four children to the library’s storytime events, so when she received an email about the solar eclipse event she decided to make it a family affair.

“My 8- and 6-year-old seem to know the moon is crossing in front of the sun. Now, the 4- and 2-year-old don’t understand as much. They say, ‘Why can’t I look at the sun?’ ” Mahan said. “I’m just excited to get to share it with my kids.”

Midway Middle School administrators allowed students to take a quick break from the first day of school Monday to get a glance at the partial solar eclipse.

Eighth-grader Ryan Jones, 13, said he thought the eclipse was “pretty cool,” adding that he learned on Monday what the solar eclipse was.

“It doesn’t happen very often,” Ryan said.

Eighth-grader Faith Compton, 13, said getting to see the eclipse on the first day of school was a nice surprise.

“It’s really pretty. The galaxy, too. The galaxy is very interesting,” she said.

While local events were ongoing, some residents took to the road.

Waco resident Kelly Lawson now understands why people across the nation chase eclipses across states to see them in totality.

Lawson, her husband and two children drove 12 hours to Bowling Green, Kentucky, to see the solar eclipse in totality Monday.

Even though the full solar eclipse lasted only a single minute, the more than 24 hours on the road was more than worth it to see the event unfold, she said.

“It may sound silly but it was a very spiritual experience. It’s hard to put words to it,” Lawson said. “It was so quick and it just felt like, ‘What can we take in in this short amount of time?’ It was just this cool window into space. We could see planets and stars. It was very, very cool. I’m struggling to have words to put into it.”

Lawson said they have friends who lived in Bowling Green and six months ago they agreed to take the trip there. Lawson said she and her husband agreed to keep their 9-year-old and 5-year-old out of school on Monday for the experience.

“For even just that one minute, to experience that with our children, was a very powerful experience,” she said.

Missouri trip

Waco resident Robert Denton made a 12-hour drive to Saint Clair, Missouri, to be at “ground zero” for the eclipse, referring to where he could see the eclipse in totality for the near maximum time. Denton said about three weeks ago he decided he and his 12-year-old son would make the trip, adding that his son enjoyed the experience.

Denton said he did some calculations to determine which large piece of property with a body of water in Saint Clair would be closest to ground zero. After locating the property and contacting the homeowners, he said they agreed to let them watch the eclipse from their property.

Meanwhile, Waco-McLennan County Central Library organizers would have requested more NASA-approved solar glasses through their grant had they known what a huge turnout they would have, library director Essy Day said.

The NASA grant allowed the library to receive 200 specialized glasses, she said.

Day said the library was eager to help more people become excited about anything related to science. While the event was scheduled to begin at 10 a.m., parents and residents started flooding the library an hour early. Youth participated in crafts while waiting for 1:10 p.m. to roll around — the peak of the partial eclipse in Waco — while parents helped fill in questionnaires that would be dropped in the library’s time capsule.

Time capsule

The library opted to put together a time capsule to allow another generation of youth to open the box and take a glance at what life was like in 2017, said Angela Lightfoot, the Central branch’s children’s associate.

“In 2048, these kids will be in their 60s probably and they are going to be able to take their grandkids and say, ‘Look what grandma wrote,’” she said. “We really want to make it about the kids here because they’re the future.”

Eclipses occur more often than people think, said Augusto Carballido, Baylor University assistant research professor, who was a guest speaker at the Waco-McLennan County library.

“They occur pretty frequently,” he said. “The problem is, most of the time they occur in places where there’s no one to see them. That would be mostly over the oceans.”

While Monday’s celestial event was the first in decades to be visible all across the United States, the next one will be in 2024, he said.

“Interestingly enough, the path of totality will pass right through Waco,” he said.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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