COLUMBUS (AP) — Americans gazed in wonder through telescopes, cameras and protective glasses Monday as the moon began blotting out the midday sun in the first full-blown solar eclipse to sweep the U.S. from coast to coast in nearly a century.
The celestial show was expected 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 projected line of shadow created when the sun is completely obscured. The path was 60 to 70 miles (96 to 113 kilometers) wide, running from Oregon to South Carolina.
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.
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PHOTOS: Total solar eclipse 2017 x
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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 U.S. since 1918. That was the country’s last coast-to-coast total eclipse. In fact, the U.S. mainland hasn’t seen a total solar eclipse since 1979 — and even then, only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness.
Scientists said Monday’s total eclipse would cast a shadow that would race 2,600 miles 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.
The next total solar eclipse in the U.S. will be in 2024. The next coast-to-coast one will not be until 2045.