May 21, 2024

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Total solar eclipse: the continent watches in wonder

Total solar eclipse: the continent watches in wonder
  • Written by Holly Honderich
  • in Washington

Video explanation,

Watch: Stunning photos of the total solar eclipse crossing North America

And across Mexico, the United States and Canada, within a strip of land stretching 155 miles wide but more than 4,000 miles long, tens of millions of people craned their necks, tilted their heads to the sky and watched in wonder as day turned into night.

What many saw on Monday was an unparalleled phenomenon: the moon moving between the Earth and the sun, its light being extinguished in a total solar eclipse.

The path of totality stretched across the continent, starting in the warm sands of a Mexican beach town, then darkening the sky over the choppy waters of Niagara Falls before ending its journey on the beaches of Newfoundland, Canada.

It left a sense of awe in its wake, a reminder of our planet's place in the universe.

The eclipse was first seen around Mazatlan, Mexico, on the country's western shores at 11:07 local time (18:07 GMT).

At first, it seemed that the outer edge of the Moon was just touching the Sun. Then I devoured more and more until cheers erupted as everything finally darkened – except for the silvery glow of the sun's “corona” effect around the moon's circumference.

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Addie with her father Ryan watching the big moment

A thousand miles away in Dallas, Texas, 11-year-old Addie Walton King was waiting, weeks of pent-up excitement ready to explode.

She learned all about eclipses in her fifth grade at Dallas Academy, and on Monday morning she laced up her shoes and put four pairs of eclipse glasses in her pink backpack — one for herself, one for each parent and one for her little one. Sister Abigail.

Before she began, Addie sat next to her father, Ryan, in the schoolyard in downtown Dallas and looked up.

Everything seemed slow, she said, as she described the Texas afternoon turning dark. “It looked like the moon was biting the sun, but without the teeth marks.”

The clouds slid in and out, sometimes obscuring the eclipse from view until the sun disappeared, leaving only small flares of light around the moon.

“I didn't think it would be like this,” Addie said. “It was really dark. I thought it would be like evening darkness, but it was very close to pitch black.”

The temperature suddenly dropped, and as I learned, the animals fell silent.

“When it started getting lighter, the crickets were there, and the birds started singing. It was really crazy,” she said. “I'm sad it's over.”

From there, the eclipse continued, making its way into the northeastern United States.

For some, the solar phenomenon was marked by a personal milestone, as hundreds of Americans joined one of the many mass wedding parties spread across the path of totality.

Image source, Getty Images

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A couple participated in a mass wedding in Arkansas

In Russellville, Arkansas, 300 couples from across the country signed up and said “I do” before the sky turned black. As the sky brightened, the group cut wedding cakes and danced — all part of the Total Eclipse of the Heart festival.

Following the moon in one state, in Elsinore, Missouri, was amateur astronomer Darcy Howard, who drove from her home in central Arkansas to make sure bad weather didn't obstruct her view.

She had witnessed many eclipses before today, two of them total, one annular, and two partial. “Everyone has their own fingerprint,” she said.

Ms Howard said today's total eclipse, at around 13:56 local time (18:56 GMT), brought a “strange aurora”, with dark colors spreading along the horizon. The wreath was almost as bright as the full moon. “The otherworldly feeling was everywhere,” she said.

The 70-year-old has loved the universe since her childhood, ever since her father showed her the Big Dipper, the North Star and the Milky Way, and bought her her first telescope.

“I was hooked,” she said. “I can look through a telescope and see Jupiter…I can see Saturn. And when I see that in space, I know all is well in the world.”

Image source, Getty Images

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Where it all began: Children watch on the beach in Mazatlan, Mexico, the first place to experience a total eclipse

By 15:13 local time (20:13 GMT), the total eclipse had plunged the Midwestern state of Ohio into darkness.

In Cleveland, where eclipse observers enjoyed clear skies, the sun's corona was clearly visible, a magnificent halo surrounding the moon.

The stars appeared at midday, a spectacle met with cheers and fireworks, on New Year's Eve in mid-April.

Not many major American cities were lucky enough to be in the path of the total eclipse, but the views were still stunning. In New York, hundreds of people crowded the observation deck of the Edge skyscraper in Manhattan to see what they could see.

They did not leave disappointed when the sun shrank into a crescent-like patch of light casting a pale shadow over the city.

Image source, Getty Images

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Hundreds watch the sky at The Edge observation deck in New York

Tourists crowded on both sides of the border at Niagara Falls, where the eclipse's path crosses from the United States to Canada.

Here, the weather was a huge challenge, with thick gray clouds blocking the sky from view.

But just in time – to the delight of the audience – the clouds parted to reveal the sun's black hole.

Nearby, on a Niagara cruise, 309 people celebrated the record-breaking celebration – dressing as the sun to break the Guinness World Record for “largest gathering of people dressed as the sun.”

The constant movement of the celestial bodies meant that the phenomenon was short-lived, and it was Montreal that then got its chance to indulge in a temporary night.

In Montreal, 20,000 people crowded into a field on McGill University's campus for an event held by the university's Trottier Space Institute.

“We were expecting 8,000,” program director Caroina Cruz Vinaccia said afterward. The weather was perfect, clear, bright skies. At the moment of completion, the crowd erupted immediately, she said.

“I still can't find the right words for how amazing this is,” she said. “We're still going down.”

Video explanation,

Watch: Eclipse in Niagara Falls: “Awesome!” amazing'

Crowds were smaller at Fogo Island in Newfoundland, on Canada's east coast, one of the last places where the total eclipse could be seen.

Bethany Downery, a Newfoundland native who works for the European Space Agency, saw the stunning view from the Fogo Island Inn, which is located just off the Atlantic Ocean.

She said the sky was overcast, but the clouds miraculously moved in just in time for it to be close to full.

And thus the day of astonishment and collective celebration came to an end. But it left a permanent mark on the hearts of many who witnessed it.

In Dallas, a few thousand miles away, Addie Walton King was making plans.

Texas won't be in the path of a total eclipse again for another 300 years, so it will have to travel to North America next in 2044.

By then, you will have more experience with the total eclipse. “I want to be a scientist by then,” she said.

—With additional reporting from Brandon Livesay, Nada Tawfiq, Nadine Youssef and Helena Humphrey

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