'Spectacular' total eclipse casts spell over North America

A solar eclipse frenzy swept across North America as the breathtaking celestial spectacle captivated tens of millions of people, offering a rare mix of scientific interest, commercial opportunities and daytime parties.

The moon's shadow plunged Mexico's Pacific coast into total darkness at 11:07 a.m. local time (6:07 p.m. GMT), then swept across the United States at supersonic speed and returned to the ocean over Canada's Atlantic coast just an hour and a half after it made landfall.

Along the eclipse's "path of totality," festivals, viewing parties, and even mass weddings were held where the sun's corona shone behind the moon and left crowds in awe.

"It was spectacular. I've never witnessed anything like it," Paulina Nava, a 36-year-old resident of the coastal Mexican city of Mazatlán, told AFP.

People were "screaming, applauding, some taking pictures, others kissing," she added. President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who travelled to the city, called the event "a very beautiful, unforgettable day".

Thousands of miles away in downtown Montreal, Canada, office workers emerged from skyscrapers to take photos with eclipse glasses they held on their phones.

"My heart was beating really fast," says 26-year-old Erica Park.

The path of totality was 115 miles (185 kilometers) wide and had nearly 32 million Americans living in it, with another 150 million living less than 200 miles from the strip, according to NASA, which was broadcasting live on the Internet the entire time.

School closings, mass weddings

Hotels and short-term rentals in prime viewing spots were booked for months ahead in states like Texas, Arkansas, Ohio and Maine.

In Ingram, Texas, eclipse watchers from around the world gathered at Stonehenge II Park - a replica of the prehistoric monument in England - undisturbed by the overcast conditions.

Jenny Lynn Hunter, 57, and her husband, Charles Guillory, 60, had flown in from Floresville, Texas. The couple described themselves as "heathens" and wore Merlin hats.

"It means a lot to me because I have stage four cancer, but I'm not going to give up, this is a rebirth of the Sun of Life," Hunter said.

In Russellville, Arkansas, on the other hand, more than 300 couples reportedly exchanged vows at the massive "Total Eclipse of the Heart" wedding ceremony.

Delta airlines had planned two special flights along the eclipse route, and many area schools were closed for the day.

Donald Trump, who released a campaign ad showing his head blocking out the sun, famously ignored all safety advice and looked directly at the eclipse when he was in the White House in 2017.


In this election year, President Joe Biden mocked his rival with a social media post that said, "Don't play dumb, people."

Health experts have also urged people to use certified eclipse glasses to prevent permanent retinal damage.

Only those who are in the path of totality can safely remove the protective glasses for a few precious moments that won't be repeated until the next solar eclipse for much of North America in 2044.

"Diamond Ring"

The eclipse was also an unexpected success for scientists. NASA launched a trio of sounding rockets before, during and immediately after the eclipse to measure changes caused by the sudden darkness in the ionosphere, the upper layer of the atmosphere important for long-range radio communication.

The eclipse also provided a golden opportunity to study the Sun's corona - the outer layer of the atmosphere that is normally hidden from the blinding light at the surface but has a huge impact on everything from satellites to power grids.

"There are a few high clouds, but the beauty of the corona is clearly visible," NASA heliophysicist Michael Kirk said as the eclipse passed over Dallas.

"You can see this spiky structure that just stands out - it's heart-stoppingly beautiful," he added, pointing out that the corona is "asymmetrical" as a result of the Sun approaching the peak of its 11-year cycle.

As the eclipse unfolded, the truncated lunar terrain revealed itself in a stunning "diamond ring" effect, and the planets Venus and Jupiter appeared briefly in the sky.

During previous eclipses, striking animal behavior has been observed, such as the crowing of roosters who believe that dawn has arrived when the darkness ends.

For humans, eclipses evoke a sense of wonder as we confront our small place in the cosmic order. Individuals also exhibit more "pro-social" feelings towards each other after the shared experience. /BGNES