Emotional sky-gazers stood transfixed across North America Monday as the Sun vanished behind the Moon in a rare total eclipse that swept the continent coast-to-coast for the first time in nearly a century.
Millions of eclipse chasers and amateur star watchers alike converged in cities along the path of totality, a 70-mile (113-kilometer) wide swath cutting through 14 US states, where the Moon briefly blocked out all light from the Sun.
“It was incredibly beautiful. I am moved to tears,” said Heather Riser, a 54-year-old librarian from Virginia, sitting on a blanket in Charleston’s grassy Waterfront Park where thousands had gathered to watch.
Festivals, rooftop parties, weddings, camping trips and astronomy meet-ups were held nationwide for what NASA predicted to be the most heavily photographed and documented eclipse in modern times, thanks to the era of social media.
The blackest part of the eclipse, known as totality because the Moon blocks all the Sun’s light from the Earth, began over Lincoln Beach, Oregon at 1716 GMT.
Crowds whooped and cheered at the first sign of darkness.
Just inland, more than 100,000 people gathered at Madras, Oregon — typically a town of 7,000 — in what experts described as perfect viewing conditions.
“You’re just blown away, this feeling inside you is really the definition of ‘awe’ and ‘awesome,’” said Rich Krueger, a science professor.
“Seeing the corona extend out, feeling the coolness, hearing the crowd, just being a part of it with all these people, and especially my students and co-workers is just amazing.”
In Los Angeles, “oohs and aahs” emanated from the crowd of thousands gathered at the Griffith Observatory in the hills above the city as the partial eclipse began.
Many had hiked to the site to avoid massive traffic jams. Some watchers had fashioned their own pinhole projectors out of cardboard and scotch tape. Others watched while wearing special, dark solar eclipse glasses.
“This is a once in a lifetime event,” said 42-year-old Chad Briggs.
In downtown Charleston, South Carolina, the last point in the path of totality, crowds of tourists — some in special eclipse T-shirts and star-printed trousers — staked out prime spots on the bustling city’s storied waterfront.
Forecasts of thunderstorms threatened to block the view, but the eclipse managed to peek through the wispy clouds.
Onlookers in Waterfront Park screamed and cheered as the sky went dark in the middle of the afternoon, streetlamps came on, and a rumble of thunder could be heard in the distance.
“It was just awesome,” said Dave Lichtenauer, age 63, a retired electrical engineer, describing the event as “partially spiritual.”
“The crowd here was very into it,” he added, remarking on the diversity and peacefulness of the masses.
“You don’t get many chances to experience that.”
One bar had installed outdoor speakers blasting Bonnie Tyler’s mega-hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart” — which she also performed live on a cruise ship sailing through the path of totality.
Cloudy weather and thunderstorms dashed viewers’ hopes of a seeing the eclipse in some places, including Missouri.
Some of the clearest views were along the West Coast. — AFP