This past Monday, August 21st, the United States was treated to a rare celestial event: a total solar eclipse, which began its trek from the Pacific coast in Oregon to the Atlantic coast in South Carolina. While estimates of how many people viewed the eclipse vary by source, according to GreatAmericanEclipse.com, between 1.85 and 7.4 million people traveled to the path of totality, where about 12.25 million people reside. NASA reported that 4.4 million people viewed the eclipse solely from their livestream broadcast.
In Hopkinsville, Kentucky, an estimated 500,000 people traveled to the city of 32,000 to witness the eclipse, according to Vox. Dubbing itself “Eclipseville,” the rural city was the temporary home to so many tourists from around the world because it had the longest totality, 2 minutes and 41 seconds.
Alex Tawney-Guzman, an amateur eclipse chaser, traveled to Hopkinsville to view her first total solar eclipse. “The eclipse was outstanding; completely beyond my anticipation,” she said. “You really don’t know how magical it is until you experience a totality in full.”
The drive home for millions of eclipse viewers was nothing less of daunting. For Ms. Tawney-Guzman, what normally would have been a 7 hour drive back home to the Chicago suburbs ended up taking her nearly 14 hours. “It was impossible to plan ahead for the ride home, even back roads through corn were bumper to bumper,” she stated. “If I had known we’d be experiencing apocalyptic style traffic, I would have spent another night in Kentucky.”
For those across the country who could not travel, many still chose to partake in the event, albeit viewing a partial eclipse rather than a total. Kyrie Sismaet, a college student from Purdue, partook in the eclipse from his campus in northern Indiana. “It definitely felt like I was a part of history,” Sismaet said. “I loved how everyone just came together and how the world stopped for that hour.” When asked if he plans to view the next total eclipse to come to America, in 2024, Sismaet replied: “Of course! I don’t know where I’ll be, but I’ll be sure to buy glasses ahead of time.”
The Great American Eclipse was a huge win for the scientific community. In an era where the validity of the science is questioned by lawmakers in Washington, the support by the American people for the eclipse is huge. For NASA, this support is a step in the right direction for maintaining their programs. President Trump’s original 2018 fiscal year budget proposal included a $561 million decrease. The Senate Appropriations Committee later granted NASA $19.5 billion in funding, $437 million more than under Trump’s original plan.
For other areas of science that have come under public scrutiny, such as climatology, the support shown for science this past Monday is still a step in the right direction. As more people open their minds to one branch of science, the validity they find in other branches will undoubtedly increase.
Anyone who missed this past eclipse has the opportunity to view several more celestial events within the next few years. According to TimeAndDate.com, the next Lunar eclipses to be visible in the United States are on January 31st, 2018, and January 20th, 2019. A transit of Mercury across the sun will be visible on November 11th, 2019. An annular eclipse will be visible on October 14th, and the next total solar eclipse to be visible in the United States will be on April 8th, 2024.
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