Editorial: For a few hours, we were all on the same page

As the path of the solar eclipse moved across the sky on Monday and the moon began to cover first a sliver of the sun and then nearly all of it, something remarkable was also happening on the ground among the hundreds of people who came to set up beach chairs and watch a rare solar eclipse. 

We were at the Custer Institute, one of Southold’s gems. The building dates back nearly a century. Inside, the institute is a monument to its members’ love of the skies. There are several photographs on the wall of Albert Einstein, who in the early 1940s summered in a bungalow on Nassau Point. 

Driving up or down Main Bayview Road, what you see is the observatory’s rounded telescope dome on the roof of the building. There’s something kind of awe-inspiring about it.

Here, science is king. On Monday, the eclipse brought out science and astronomy lovers who wanted to witness this extraordinary event. Custer Institute’s director, Anne Spooner, watched as cars began to fill the parking lot by 2 p.m., 90 minutes ahead of 3:27, when the sun would be nearly entirely obscured by the moon. (On eastern Long Island, coverage reached 89.9%.)

Hundreds of sky watchers poured out of their cars, unfolded beach chairs, donned special glasses and waited. The institute’s enthusiastic volunteers set up telescopes on the lawn and in a side building. In the main building, a live feed from NASA was projected onto a large screen.

What we saw Monday was a group of devoted volunteers sharing their love of astronomy, helping people focus their telescopes on an infrequent celestial event and explaining the phenomenon unfolding in the clear sky overhead. The volunteers relished being teachers and showing off what the Custer Institute offers. One surprise of the afternoon was that no students from area schools were there. They should have been. It would have made a terrific field trip. 

Perhaps the most significant aspect of the day was how a large group of people — and this was true across the country as the eclipse progressed — came together specifically to witness the event. No one sat in their beach chair staring at their phone. Discussions stayed on the subject of the remarkable institute and its dedication to astronomy and the science behind an eclipse.

Everyone there was on the same page. In our country these days, this was a very rare event indeed. We were particularly struck by one of the institute’s volunteers, Farhan Ali, who lives in Queens and drives east nearly every weekend. He is a self-described science nerd who has loved astronomy since he was 4 or 5 years old.

He shared a small, delicate piece of glass with anyone who wanted to safely watch the eclipse. By holding it up, a viewer could look through it and clearly see the sun being slowly covered by the moon. He was thrilled to explain how it worked and was happy when someone tried it out and exclaimed, “Oh, wow, that’s amazing!”

Mr. Ali also put the day in a welcome perspective. “It doesn’t matter what religion you are, or what nationality you are — the sky belongs to everyone, all of humanity,” he said.

On Monday, millions of people happily came together to watch our shared sky. If only for a short time, it was a joy to behold.