Millions of Americans witnessed a piece of history Monday afternoon, as they viewed the total solar eclipse — the first in more than 35 years.
Young and old gathered at Ribeyes Steakhouse of Clinton for a viewing party, many donning their disposable eclipse spectacles, while others used items from home to craft a device suitable for the historic look. About 15 minutes before the maximum amount of darkness swept across Sampson County, onlookers began to take notice of the cooling temperatures and apparent haze to the sky.
“It almost feels like a storm is coming up or there is a blanket of smoke across the sky,” Ribeyes owner Kristen Cummings said.
Monday’s eclipse made history, the first of its kind since 1979, when only five states in the Northwest experienced total darkness. Today, more than a dozen states saw 90 percent or more of coverage.
Much like today, Warsaw resident Keith Carter stood outside to witness a piece of history more than 40 years ago. Only seven years old at the time, Carter remembers the total solar eclipse of 1970, which was visible across most of North and Central America.
“Unlike today, I remember the sky going dark, just like it was night,” Carter recalled. “Our neighbors even joked with all the kids and told us it was time to go to bed.”
A solar eclipse occurs when the moon completely blocks the sun and sun’s tenuous atmosphere can be seen. This eclipse stretched across North America from Oregon to South Carolina and covered 2,600 miles through 14 states. The longest stretch of darkness was 2 minutes and 44 seconds.
For anyone who missed today’s event, they will have to wait seven more years, as the next total solar eclipse in the United States will be in 2024 and the next coast-to-coast eclipse will be in 2045.
According to reports from the Associated Press, Monday’s eclipse promised to be the most observed and photographed eclipse in history, with many Americans staking out prime viewing spots and settling onto blankets and lawn chairs to watch, especially along the path of totality — the line of deep shadow created when the sun is completely obscured except for the delicate ring of light known as the corona.
Traffic along I-40, I-95 and I-26 through Columbia, S.C. began increasing last Friday, as millions hit the roads, traveling to a destination in the direct path of totality.
The shadow — a corridor just 60 to 70 miles (96 to 113 kilometers) wide — came ashore in Oregon and then began traveling diagonally across the heartland to South Carolina, with darkness from the totality lasting only around two to three minutes in any one spot. The rest of North America was treated to a partial eclipse, as were Central American and the top of South America.
NASA reported 4.4 million people were watching its TV coverage midway through the eclipse, the biggest livestream event in the space agency’s history. Ribeye’s party wasn’t any different, as dozens gathered inside the bar to view the experience on the television screen.
NASA solar physicist Alex Young said the last time earthlings had a connection like this to the heavens was during man’s first flight to the moon, on Apollo 8 in 1968. The first, famous Earthrise photo came from that mission and, like this eclipse, showed us “we are part of something bigger.”
According to research, 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, during 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.
The Associated Press contributed to this article. Reach Kristy D. Carter at 910-592-8137, ext. 2588. Follow us on Twitter at @SampsonInd. Like us on Facebook.