Moon blots sun out of sky as historic eclipse mesmerizes US
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Moon blots sun out of sky as historic eclipse mesmerizes US

First eclipse of the social media era to pass through heavily populated area is 'like nothing else you will ever see'

  • The sun's corona is visible as the moon passes in front of the sun during a total solar eclipse at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon's Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell on August 21, 2017. (Robyn Beck/AFP)
    The sun's corona is visible as the moon passes in front of the sun during a total solar eclipse at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon's Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell on August 21, 2017. (Robyn Beck/AFP)
  • Members of the Rome Braves watch the eclipse at Spirit Communications Park during a break in minor league baseball August 21, 2017 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/AFP)
    Members of the Rome Braves watch the eclipse at Spirit Communications Park during a break in minor league baseball August 21, 2017 in Columbia, South Carolina. (Sean Rayford/Getty Images/AFP)
  • A spectator looks skyward during a partial eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)
    A spectator looks skyward during a partial eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)
  • The Bariclow family watches the first solar eclipse to sweep across the United States in over 99 years on the beach August 21, 2017 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
    The Bariclow family watches the first solar eclipse to sweep across the United States in over 99 years on the beach August 21, 2017 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
  • A Mexican girl looks through a telescope at the beginning of the solar eclipse, at the esplanade of the Museum of Natural History in Mexico City, on August 21, 2017. (Pedro Pardo/AFP)
    A Mexican girl looks through a telescope at the beginning of the solar eclipse, at the esplanade of the Museum of Natural History in Mexico City, on August 21, 2017. (Pedro Pardo/AFP)
  • Visitors look at the solar eclipse at South Mike Sedar Park on August 21, 2017 in Casper, Wyoming. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)
    Visitors look at the solar eclipse at South Mike Sedar Park on August 21, 2017 in Casper, Wyoming. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/AFP)
  • People watch the start of the solar eclipse and raise their hands in prayer in an eclipse viewing event led by Native American elders, at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon's Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell on August 21, 2017. (Robyn Beck/AFP)
    People watch the start of the solar eclipse and raise their hands in prayer in an eclipse viewing event led by Native American elders, at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon's Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell on August 21, 2017. (Robyn Beck/AFP)
  • A solar eclipse as seen from Lincoln City, Oregon, on August 21, 2017. (screen capture: YouTube)
    A solar eclipse as seen from Lincoln City, Oregon, on August 21, 2017. (screen capture: YouTube)

AP — Americans gazed in wonder through telescopes, cameras and disposable protective glasses Monday as the moon blotted out the midday sun in the first full-blown solar eclipse to sweep the US from coast to coast in nearly a century.

It promised to be the most observed and photographed eclipse in history, with millions staking out prime viewing spots and settling into lawn chairs to watch, especially along the path of totality — the line of shadow created when the sun is completely obscured.

The shadow — a corridor just 60 to 70 miles (96 to 113 kilometers) wide — came ashore in Oregon and then began racing diagonally across the continent to South Carolina, with darkness lasting only about two to three minutes in any one spot.

“The show has just begun, people! What a gorgeous day! Isn’t this great, people?” Jim Todd, a director at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, told a crowd of thousands at an amphitheater in Salem, Oregon, as the moon seemed to take an ever-bigger bite out of the sun and temperature soon dropped noticeably.

With 200 million people within a day’s drive from the path of totality, towns and parks braced for monumental crowds. Clear skies beckoned along most of the route, to the relief of those who feared cloud cover would spoil this once-in-a-lifetime moment.

Steve Kaltenhauser of Calgary, Canada, watches with the crowd during a total solar eclipse from the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience on August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. (Stan Honda/AFP)
Steve Kaltenhauser of Calgary, Canada, watches with the crowd during a total solar eclipse from the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience on August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. (Stan Honda/AFP)

“It’s like nothing else you will ever see or ever do,” said veteran eclipse-watcher Mike O’Leary of San Diego, who set up his camera along with among hundreds of other amateur astronomers gathered in Casper, Wyoming. “It can be religious. It makes you feel insignificant, like you’re just a speck in the whole scheme of things.”

Astronomers were giddy with excitement. A solar eclipse is considered one of the grandest of cosmic spectacles.

 A spectator looks skyward during a partial eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)
A spectator looks skyward during a partial eclipse of the sun on August 21, 2017 at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images/AFP)

NASA solar physicist Alex Young said the last time earthlings had a connection like this to the heavens was during man’s first flight to the moon, on Apollo 8 in 1968. The first, famous Earthrise photo came from that mission and, like this eclipse, showed us “we are part of something bigger.”

With half an hour to go before totality, NASA’s acting administrator, Robert Lightfoot, enjoyed the moon’s “first bites out of the sun” from a plane flying over the Oregon coast and declared it “just an incredible view.”

“I’m about to fight this man for a window seat,” Lightfoot said, referring to a fellow NASA scientist.

The sun's corona only is visible during a total solar eclipse between the Solar Temples at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon's Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell August 21, 2017. (Robyn Beck/AFP)
The sun’s corona only is visible during a total solar eclipse between the Solar Temples at Big Summit Prairie ranch in Oregon’s Ochoco National Forest near the city of Mitchell August 21, 2017. (Robyn Beck/AFP)

The Earth, moon and sun line up perfectly every one to three years, briefly turning day into night for a sliver of the planet. But these sights normally are in no man’s land, like the vast Pacific or Earth’s poles. This is the first eclipse of the social media era to pass through such a heavily populated area.

The moon hasn’t thrown this much shade at the US since 1918, during the country’s last coast-to-coast total eclipse. In fact, the US mainland hasn’t seen a total solar eclipse since 1979 — and even then, only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness.

A woman views the solar eclipse at 'Top of the Rock' observatory at Rockefeller Center, August 21, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)
A woman views the solar eclipse at ‘Top of the Rock’ observatory at Rockefeller Center, August 21, 2017 in New York City. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images/AFP)

“It’s really, really, really, really awesome,” said 9-year-old Cami Smith as she watched the fully eclipsed sun from a gravel lane near her grandfather’s home at Beverly Beach, Oregon.

Scientists said the total eclipse would cast a shadow that would race 2,600 miles (4,200 kilometers) through 14 states, entering near Lincoln City, Oregon, at 1:16 p.m. EDT, moving diagonally across the heartland over Casper, Wyoming, Carbondale, Illinois, and Nashville, Tennessee, and then exiting near Charleston, South Carolina, at 2:47 p.m. EDT.

Shawnee National Forest in southern Illinois was in line to see the longest stretch of darkness: 2 minutes and 44 seconds.

The "diamond ring effect" is seen during a total solar eclipse as seen from the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience on August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. (Stan Honda/AFP)
The “diamond ring effect” is seen during a total solar eclipse as seen from the Lowell Observatory Solar Eclipse Experience on August 21, 2017 in Madras, Oregon. (Stan Honda/AFP)

All of North America was on track to get at least a partial eclipse, along with Central America and the top of South America.

Joe Roth, an amateur photographer, traveled south from the Chicago area to Alto Pass, Illinois, to catch his first total solar eclipse — on his 62nd birthday, no less. He said the stars aligned for him — “a Kodak moment for me to cherish and experience.”

Kim Kniseley drove overnight from Roanoke, Virginia, arriving in Madisonville, Tennessee, before dawn to get a parking spot at Kefauver Park, where by sunrise dozens of folks had claimed benches and set up tents.

He said he could have stayed home in Roanoke and seen a partial eclipse of 90 percent, but that would have been like “going to a rock concert and you’re standing in the parking lot.”

Mark and Molly Moser, from Denver, Colorado, watch the first solar eclipse to sweep across the United States in over 99 years in the Atlantic Ocean August 21, 2017 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)
Mark and Molly Moser, from Denver, Colorado, watch the first solar eclipse to sweep across the United States in over 99 years in the Atlantic Ocean August 21, 2017 on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. (Win McNamee/Getty Images/AFP)

Hoping to learn more about the sun’s composition and activity, NASA and other scientists watched and analyzed from telescopes on the ground and in orbit, the International Space Station, airplanes and scores of high-altitude balloons beaming back live video.

Citizen scientists also planned to monitor animal and plant behavior as daylight turned into twilight and the temperature dropped. Thousands of people streamed into the Nashville Zoo just to watch the animals’ reaction.

Scientists warned people not to look into the sun without protection, even when the sun is 100% covered. Otherwise, to avoid eye damage, keep the solar specs on or use pinhole projectors that can cast an image of the eclipse into a box.

The next total solar eclipse in the US will be in 2024. The next coast-to-coast one will not be until 2045.

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