America woke up Monday ready to turn its eyes to the sky.
The day of the Great American Eclipse had finally arrived.
But even as celestial bodies moved to align in the sky, terrestrial-bound bodies were scurrying in a mad last-minute scramble for the best vantage points to witness it.
Procrastinators dashed from store to store in search of eclipse-safe glasses. Scientists nervously checked and rechecked their equipment at observatories and research airplanes across the country. Authorities braced for still more traffic as millions converged along the 70-mile-wide path of the total eclipse.
For millennia, on days just like this one, our ancestors have been filled with awe, fear and wonder. Eclipses have spawned myths, altered belief systems, reshaped the way entire civilizations saw their world.
On Monday, many were looking for something similarly profound as they broke out lawn chairs, dragged their children outside and clutched their safety glasses in giddy expectation.
As it approached, this eclipse seemed different, more intimate somehow. It will be the first in a century to cross the continental United States, coast to coast, and the first since the republic’s foundation that will pass directly over only this country. It felt — at a time of political division and upheaval — like a personally addressed note from the universe:
Hey, America, forget the other stuff for a second. There are bigger things in this galaxy. That overshadow us. That can unite us.
Just look up.
What’s to come
The physics behind the eclipse are quite simple.
Today, following a course charted before the dawn of history, the moon will pass between the sun and Earth and cast a shadow onto a wide swath of land.
At 10:15 a.m. Pacific time, the shadow of that total eclipse will first make landfall on the tiny town of Depoe Bay, Ore. (population 1,398). From there, at a screaming speed of 2,100 mph, the eclipse’s shadow will zip across America on a 3,000-mile path, cutting through Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina. Finally at 2:49 p.m. Eastern time, it will disappear off the coast of Charleston, S.C.
Play Video 1:33
How did people view solar eclipses in the past?
Capital Weather Gang’s Angela Fritz takes us back in time to show how mankind has reacted to eclipses over thousands of years. (Claritza Jimenez, Daron Taylor, Angela Fritz/The Washington Post)
The whole thing — the wonder, beauty, craning of necks and searching of souls — will be over from coast to coast in just 90 minutes.
Even people not on that path, however, will see a partial eclipse of the sun — like a cookie with a bite taken out of it. The closer you are to the path of the total eclipse, the bigger that shadow will be.