The stars came out in the middle of the day, zoo animals ran in agitated circles, crickets chirped, birds fell silent and a chilly darkness settled upon the land on Monday as the US witnessed its first full-blown, coast-to-coast solar eclipse since World War I.
Millions of Americans gazed in wonder at the cosmic spectacle, with the best seats along the so-called “path of totality” that raced 4,200km across the nation from Oregon to South Carolina.
“It was a very primal experience,” Julie Vigeland, of Portland, Oregon, said after she was moved to tears by the sight of the sun reduced to a silvery ring of light in Salem.
It took 90 minutes for the shadow of the moon to travel across the country.
Along that path, the moon blotted out the midday sun for about two wondrous minutes at any one place, eliciting “oohs,” “aahs,” whoops and shouts from people gathered in stadiums, parks and backyards.
It was, by all accounts, the most-observed and most-photographed eclipse in history, documented by satellites and high-altitude balloons and watched on Earth through telescopes, cameras and cardboard-frame protective eyeglasses.
In Boise, Idaho, where the sun was more than 99 percent blocked, the street lights flicked on briefly, while in Nashville, Tennessee, people craned their necks at the sky and knocked back longneck beers at Nudie’s Honky Tonk bar.
Passengers aboard a cruise ship in the Caribbean watched it unfold as Bonnie Tyler sang her 1983 hit song Total Eclipse of the Heart.
At the White House, despite all the warnings from experts about the risk of eye damage, US President Donald Trump took off his eclipse glasses and looked directly at the sun.
The path of totality, where the sun was 100 percent obscured by the moon, was just 96km to 113km wide.
However, the rest of North America was treated to a partial eclipse, as were Central America and the upper reaches of South America.
Skies were clear along most of the route, to the relief of those who feared cloud cover would spoil the moment.
“Oh, God, oh, that was amazing,” said Joe Dellinger, a Houston, Texas, man who set up a telescope on the Capitol lawn in Jefferson City, Missouri. “That was better than any photo.”
For the youngest observers, it seemed like magic.
“It’s really, really, really, really awesome,” nine-year-old Cami Smith said as she gazed at the fully eclipsed sun in Beverly Beach, Oregon.
More than one parent was amazed to see teenagers actually look up from their cellphones.
Patrick Schueck, a construction company president from Little Rock, Arkansas, took his 10-year-old twin daughters Ava and Hayden to Bald Knob Cross of Peace in Alto Pass, Illinois, a more than 30m-tall cross atop a mountain.
Schueck said that at first his girls were not very interested in the eclipse; one sat looking at her iPhone.
“Quickly that changed,” he said. “It went from them being aloof to being in total amazement.”
Astronomers, too, were giddy with excitement.
NASA solar physicist Alex Young said the last time earthlings had a connection like this to the heavens was during the first flight to the moon — Apollo 8 in 1968.
The first, famous earthrise photograph came from that mission and, like this eclipse, showed us “we are part of something bigger,” Young said.
NASA Acting Administrator Robert Lightfoot watched with delight from an airplane flying over the Oregon coast and joked about the space agency official next to him: “I’m about to fight this man for a window seat.”
Hoping to learn more about the sun’s composition and the mysterious solar wind, scientists watched and analyzed it all from the ground and the sky, including aboard the International Space Station.
In Charleston, South Carolina, the eclipse’s last stop in the US, college junior Allie Stern, 20, said: “It was amazing. It looked like a banana peel, like a glowing banana peel which is kind of hard to describe and imagine but it was super cool.”
After the celestial spectacle, eclipse watchers heading home in Tennessee and Wyoming spent hours stuck in traffic jams.
In Kentucky, two women watching the eclipse while standing on a sidewalk were struck by a car, and one has died, authorities said.
The last coast-to-coast total eclipse in the US was in 1918.
The last total solar eclipse in the US was in 1979, but only five states in the northwest actually experienced total darkness.
The next total eclipse in the US will be in 2024. The next coast-to-coast one will not be until 2045.
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