Special Flights, Mass Wedding As Solar Eclipse Mania Grips North America

Solar Eclipse April 2024: This year’s path of totality is home to nearly 32 million Americans

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Eclipse mania was gripping North America on Monday as a breathtaking celestial event offered a rare convergence of commercial and scientific opportunities — and an excuse to party.

The maximum extent of the Moon’s shadow will land on Mexico’s Pacific coast at 11:07 am local time (1807 GMT), then speed northeast across a 15-state swath of the United States and on to Canada, exiting the continent over Newfoundland just under an hour-and-a-half later.

Festivals, viewing parties, and even mass weddings are planned along the eclipse “path of totality,” where the Moon will completely obscure the Sun’s light for up to a few minutes — weather permitting. Cloud cover was forecast over Texas and northeastern US states. 

“A total solar eclipse is one of the most emotional events one can experience,” Jane Rigby, the senior project scientist for the Webb space telescope, posted. “Feel your feels. You’re a part of the universe.”

This year’s path of totality is 115 miles (185 kilometers) wide and home to nearly 32 million Americans, with an additional 150 million living less than 200 miles from the strip. Those further away can still enjoy a partial eclipse, or follow a webcast provided by NASA.

The next total solar eclipse that can be seen from a large part of North America won’t come around until 2044.

Festivals, flights, romance

Businesses are capitalizing on the excitement with special events, while hotels and short-term rentals in prime viewing locations have been booked solid for months.

At the Stonehenge II park in Ingram, Texas, a replica of the prehistoric structure in England, eclipse watchers had gathered from across the world.

“This is our third solar eclipse,” 62-year-old Jim Saltigerald, who was attending with his wife and two children, told AFP. “We’re all praying and hoping that we have a good break in the clouds.”

In Cleveland, where local officials expect some 200,000 visitors, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame plans a four-day “Solarfest” of live music. 

And in Russellville, Arkansas, more than 300 couples are reportedly set to exchange vows at “A Total Eclipse of the Heart” mass wedding ceremony with the “thin circle of light around the moon resembling a huge wedding ring in the sky!” the event’s website boasts.

Delta airlines has planned two special flights along the path, while many schools in the zone are shutting for the day. 

Research firm Perryman Group estimates direct and indirect economic impacts of this year’s eclipse could reach $6 billion.

Scientific windfall

Then there’s the science. NASA plans to launch a trio of sounding rockets before, during and just after the eclipse to measure changes caused by the sudden darkness to the ionosphere, an upper layer of the atmosphere important for long-distance radio communication.

The eclipse also offers a golden opportunity to study the Sun’s corona, the outer layer of its atmosphere which is normally hidden by the blinding light of the surface.

Startling animal behaviour has been noted during past eclipses: giraffes have been seen galloping, while roosters and crickets can start crowing and chirping.

NASA has invited the public to contribute to research through its citizen-science project Eclipse Soundscapes, by recording the sounds of nature.

In humans, eclipses trigger feelings of awe as we confront our own tiny place within the vast cosmic order, research has revealed. Individuals exhibit more “prosocial” feelings towards each other in the aftermath of the shared experience.

Safety first

Former president Donald Trump, who notoriously gazed directly at the Sun during the 2017 eclipse, attempted to capitalize on the phenomenon by releasing a new campaign ad featuring his larger-than-life head blocking out our star.

Health professionals have stressed however not to follow his example, urging people to use certified eclipse glasses to prevent potentially permanent retinal injury. 

Only those within the path of totality can safely remove their eye protection and admire the corona peeking out from behind the silhouette of the Moon for a few precious moments.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)

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