NORMAL — Easton Kretschmer, age 6, wearing a NASA hat and NASA flight commander costume, put on his special eclipse glasses and looked up.

"It looks orangeish and blackish and yellowish," Easton said as he looked at the moon passing in front of the sun.

"It kind of looks like a crescent moon but it's the sun," said his friend Elijah Eggleston, 8, as he looked through his eclipse glasses.

More than 400 people, wearing eclipse glasses or using hand-held solar viewers, looked skyward outside Heartland Community College's Astroth Community Education Center early afternoon Monday to view the first solar eclipse to be visible across the entire contiguous United States in 99 years.

The eclipse viewing at Heartland — which included the glasses — was sponsored by Heartland's Challenger Learning Center and was preceded by a program by Challenger flight directors Susan Evens and Libby Torbeck.

The clouds parted shortly before the eclipse reached maximum solar coverage at 1:18 p.m. Central Illinois experienced a partial annular eclipse, meaning 93 percent of the sun was blocked by the moon during maximum coverage.

"Oh, it's getting bigger," Easton said as the moon continued its journey, exposing more of the sun.

"The moon covers it and something is peaking out behind it and it's the sun," offered Lydia Eggleston, 7.

"The sun is getting fatter. When you put your glasses on, you can see it," said Easton, who described himself as "an astronaut in flip-flops."

Dylan Kretschmer, 8, noticed shapes that the eclipse was reflecting between tree leaves onto the pavement. He called them "a bunch of miniature moons."

Stephen and Joyce Kretschmer brought their four children to the event, and were joined by Amber Eggleston and her two children, "because we thought this was a good opportunity to teach the children," Joyce Kretschmer said.

"And our little brother, Easton, loves moon stuff," said his brother Caleb, 9.

"The sun is a star!" Easton interjected.

"I hope they received education about solar eclipses and a lasting family memory," Joyce Kretschmer said.

"I came because this is an extraordinary event and it only happens so often," Elijah said. "It looked like a whole new sun. When you see it, it's really cool."

Photographing the eclipse while positioning his eclipse glasses over his camera lens was Peyton Mahoney, 13, of Bloomington. He made his own filter but the eclipse glasses worked better.

Peyton has been researching the eclipse for six months.

"I really like science," he said. "It explains how everything works. Science is everything we do every day. This was the most amazing thing I've ever seen."

"I think it's great that we're promoting science," said Peyton's mother, Angie Ray. "I hope more kids are empowered to research and learn about things that involve science. Peyton is looking forward to the seeing the next eclipse (in 2024)."

"This was truly a community event," Evens said.

Kathy Niepagen joined Melanie Anderson and her children Olivia, 5, and Henry, 1. Niepagen is Olivia's godmother.

"With everything going on in our world right now," Niepagen said, "It's nice to have a unifying event."

Follow Paul Swiech on Twitter: @pg_swiech

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Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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