Home North America Darkness At Noon: Solar Eclipse Enthralls Millions Of Skywatchers Across America

Darkness At Noon: Solar Eclipse Enthralls Millions Of Skywatchers Across America

Eclipse veterans have described the 15 minutes before totality as foreboding, with shadows becoming oddly crisp and sunshine assuming an eerie quality.
US solar eclipse New York city
People view the partial solar eclipse at New York Hall of Science in Queens borough, New York City, U.S., April 8, 2024.( Andrew Kelly/REUTERS)

MAZATLAN, MEXICO: The first total solar eclipse to grace North America in seven years made landfall in Mexico on Monday as millions of skywatchers gazed upward for the start of a celestial display at least partially visible, weather permitting, across most of the continent.

The Mexican beachside resort town of Mazatlan was the first major viewing spot along the “path of totality” in North America. Thousands of people gathered along the coastal promenade, setting themselves up in deck chairs with solar-safe eyewear as an orchestra played the “Star Wars” movie theme. The crowds burst into cheers and applause and the eclipse reached totality.

Where clear skies prevail, observers along the direct path of the eclipse were being treated to the rare spectacle of the moon appearing as a dark orb creeping in front of the sun, briefly blocking out all but a brilliant halo of light, or corona, around, the sun’s outer edge.

The period of totality, lasting up to 4 1/2 minutes depending the observer’s location, was ushered in by a number of other eerie eclipse effects. A partial eclipse, in which the moon obscures only a portion of the sun, was unfolding across most of the continental United States.

At Mazatlan, Lourdes Corro, 43, traveled 10 hours by car to get there. “The last one I saw was when I was 9 years old,” Corro said. “There are a few clouds but we can still see the sun.”

Eclipse fans are gathering in numerous places along the “path of totality,” which stretches from Mexico’s Pacific Coast through Texas and across 14 other U.S. states into Canada.
In upstate New York, at the Frontier Town campground in North Hudson, children ran around wearing eclipse T-shirts, while parents set up tables, chairs and beer coolers.

Connecticut residents Bob and Teresa Love were stretched out in the cargo bed of their pickup truck, eating pastries and hoping the forecasted clouds hold off long enough to not obscure the spectacle.

“I’m trying not to get too excited because of weather, just trying to keep expectations real,” said Teresa, 49. “Some people say it’s life-changing. I don’t know if it’s going to be life-changing, but I think it’s going to be cool to see.”

At up to 4 minutes and 28 seconds, the total eclipse of 2024 surpasses the duration of the one that traversed the United States from coast to coast in 2017. That one clocked in at up to 2 minutes and 42 seconds. According to NASA, total eclipses can last anywhere from 10 seconds to about 7-1/2 minutes.

Some other cities along the path of totality include: San Antonio, Austin and Dallas, Texas; Indianapolis, Indiana; Cleveland, Ohio; Erie, Pennsylvania; both Niagara Falls, New York, and Niagara Falls, Ontario, site of the famed waterfall, and Montreal, Quebec.

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About 32 million people in the United States live within the path of totality, with federal officials predicting another 5 million people will travel to be there. Countless eclipse-watching events were being convened at bars, stadiums, fairgrounds and parks along the path of totality.

Small rural towns bustled, such as Advance, Missouri, home to just over 1,300 people, where Tim and Gwen Wurst had driven from their Kansas City home after checking weather forecasts. They had thrilled to witness a partial eclipse in 2017 and were excited for totality.

“It’s been on the calendar for years,” said Tim Wurst, 62. “It was very dusky and dim the last eclipse, but this one should be just all-out dark.”

Experts urge the use of protective solar glasses to prevent eye damage that would otherwise occur from starting directly at the sun. Only during the few minutes of totality can the sun can be safely viewed without such eyewear, they said.

Overcast skies are among an eclipse-chaser’s worst fears. The U.S. National Weather Services forecast as of Monday morning was for “a rapid untimely increase of clouds” in Southern Texas; less worrying “high thin clouds” for a swathe from Arkansas to the Midwest; and the clearest skies in northern New England.

It will take about 80 minutes from the moment the moon first begins to cover the sun to the moment of totality, then another 80 minutes to complete the process in reverse.

Eclipse veterans have described the 15 minutes before totality as foreboding, with shadows becoming oddly crisp and sunshine assuming an eerie quality. In the seconds before totality, a phenomenon called “shadow bands” may appear – shimmering shadows on the ground, like those seen on the bottom of a swimming pool.

Some stars will also appear in midday sky as dusk abruptly descends, sending temperatures dipping. Birds and other wildlife, reacting to the sudden darkness, often fall silent and still.

The last remaining bit of brilliant sunlight before totality creates a “diamond ring effect” in which a single bright spot appears along the lunar edge even as the sun’s corona leaves a ring of light around the moon.

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In a career spanning over three decades and counting, I’ve been the Foreign Editor of The Telegraph, Outlook Magazine and The New Indian Express. I helped set up rediff.com’s editorial operations in San Jose and New York, helmed sify.com, and was the founder editor of India.com.

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