Solar Eclipse 2024: Valley Stream villagers gather for a historic lesson in astronomy


For Jeanette Azzaretto, Science Department Chair at Valley Stream South High School, it was the celestial event of the year, the astronomical Super Bowl. On Monday, the moon progressively wedged itself between the Earth and the sun, mostly obscuring, briefly, the glowing disk of our nearest star and casting its shadow across a swath of North America.

Down below, in Valley Stream, informal viewing parties, like the one Azzaretto planned on the South High football field bleachers, materialized throughout the village and beyond.

“I’m not going to lie, I have lost sleep over the weather,” Azzaretto said, adding that she had prayed that the viewing conditions would be ideal. Indeed, they were. Apart from a few puffs of clouds, there was a bright blue sky.

The Takeaway

  • Valley Stream residents, including South High School's Science Department Chair Jeanette Azzaretto, eagerly anticipated and celebrated the rare astronomical event of a solar eclipse. 
  • Informal viewing parties sprung up across Valley Stream, underscoring the shared excitement and fascination with the eclipse. 
  • The eclipse provided a unique educational opportunity for students and teachers alike. At South High School, efforts to build excitement included posters, a solar eclipse video contest, live streaming of the event, and performances by student groups. 

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By around noon, a sign was posted at the Waldinger Memorial Library telling patrons that it had run out of free eclipse-viewing glasses. Residents who had managed to nab a pair were out en masse. Some sat on lawn chairs, while others settled down on beach towels, peering up, in rapt attention, at the blackening sun.

By around 3:25 p.m., the eclipse was at its peak — a few minutes in which about 90 percent of the sun was eaten up by the passing moon.

To see the full sun-blotting effects of a total solar eclipse, where daylight fades to darkness, noted Tom Lynch, an amateur astronomer and a member of the Amateur Observers’ Society of New York, you must be in the moon’s path of totality.

“There are two parts of the moon’s shadow when it hits the Earth,” Lynch explained. “There’s the umbra, which is very dark, and the penumbra, which is much less dark.”

Only those lucky relative few who watched from the umbra as it swept across the continent had the choicest view. Valley Stream sky watchers, outside the path of totality, had to settle for a subtle dimness brought on by a partial eclipse.

But that was beside the point for many residents, like South High School junior Laiba Ismail, who was experiencing a solar eclipse for the first time.

“It’ll definitely be a core memory for me,” Ismail said of a phenomenon not seen in the United States since 2017, and which will not be seen again for another 20 years.

It’s a given for astronomy buffs and science teachers to be wooed by the wonder of science on most days, noted Azzaretto, regardless of what’s going on in the sky. But the eclipse was a rare way to elevate that wonder, and make an impression on even the most scientifically incurious of students. That’s why student volunteers like Ismail and the staff at South were busy building eclipse hype all last week.

“We do things big here,” Azzaretto said.

Posters hung in the halls showed the alignment of the sun, moon, and Earth in their celestial dance during the eclipse, making use of Mexican Huichol yarn art, courtesy of Science Honor Society adviser Elaina Garces. There was a solar eclipse video contest, whose entrants offered handy how-to animated guides on how to safely view the eclipse. Math teacher Ross Lipsky installed an outdoor blow-up screen to stream live coverage of the event. Groups like the Jedwoods a cappella singers performed.

“This is taking what we normally would teach in certain classes, like using a PowerPoint, and we’re going to be in an outside lab investigation together,” Azzaretto said. “It’s a field trip you don’t need to get on the bus for. I mean, it can’t get any better than that.”

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