It was an 85 percent eclipse of the heart (PHOTOS)

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“It’s so incredible. It just makes you think how awesome our God is and how we take so much for granted … life is so much bigger. “

JENNIE McKEON @JennieMnwfdn

DESTIN — The sun is 93 million miles away from earth.

But for just one afternoon the world felt a little more connected to it.

Across the United States, people looked up to the sky Monday for the solar eclipse as the moon passed between the sun and Earth, blocking sunlight. For folks in the path of totality — from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina, the sun was completely eclipsed by the moon, turning day to night. In Northwest Florida, about 85 percent of the sun was blocked as the moon passed over the sun.

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The last time a total eclipse happened in the continental United States was in 1979.

At Henderson Beach State Park in Destin, hundreds were lined up for a chance to snag a pair of solar eclipse glasses as volunteers with the Northwest Florida Astronomy Association (NWFAA) set up their telescopes for viewing. At Morgan Sports Center in Destin, hundreds gathered to view the eclipse and make crafts. Northwest Florida State College also hosted a viewing event. In parking lots, beaches and even from cars, people took a moment to look up and watch the show.

Eight-year-old Eli Taylor and his siblings, Noah, 6, and Allie, 4, all made matching T-shirts for the occasion. Eli said he couldn’t wait to view the sun through the “big, giant telescope.”

Rachel Smith, a sophomore at Niceville High School, took the day off from school to experience the solar eclipse. She and her mom marveled at the sun through their eclipse glasses.

“I was not expecting much, but then I looked up and I am in complete awe,” said Rachel’s mom, Marla. “It’s so incredible. It just makes you think how awesome our God is and how we take so much for granted … life is so much bigger. I’m glad we got to have this mother daughter memory.”

For John Goncalves, Monday wasn’t just a day for a celestial event, but a celebration for another orbit around the sun.

“My brother told me he was going to get me an eclipse for my birthday,” John said with a laugh. “It does feel really special.”

John and his wife, Ellen, of Valparaiso had planned to travel north closer to the path of totality, but their plans were thwarted when they received an email from Amazon that their eclipse glasses were defective. Plan B actually turned out even better, he said.

“It was really fantastic to see the sun through all of the different telescopes,” he said. “It kind of puts the world into perspective. We’re just one small speck in the universe.”

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About five different telescopes were set up along the parking lot of the state park. Each had a different filter to view the sun. Lines of people were steady from noon-3 p.m. as people tried to snap a picture with their phones through the telescope lens. At about 1:37 p.m., a few people even started the countdown to the moment when the eclipse was at its maximum.

Although it didn’t get dark — the eclipse lighting resembled a cloudy day — viewers were still eagerly looking up at the sun through their glasses or homemade pinhole projectors.

“It really is just amazing,” said Niceville resident Jeff Grimes as he scrolled through the photos he took on his phone. “It’s something I’ll never forget.”

Tom Haugh, outreach coordinator for NWFAA, said Monday’s eclipse crowd was bigger than any stargazing event they’ve hosted. As he stood by his telescope, he told viewers to look at the rough edges of the moon.

“This is how we studied the moon at one time,” he said. “We waited for an eclipse to see how the it looked on different sides.”

Haugh has seen a partial eclipse before. His excitement on Monday was watching the reactions from eclipse viewers.

“It’s a once in a lifetime event,” he said. “It’s neat to see the clockwork of the solar system.”

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