DemDaily: Under One Sun and Moon

April 9, 2023

Yesterday afternoon 32 million Americans in 15 states were treated to one of nature's most awe-inspiring sites -- The Great North American Total Solar Eclipse.

This is just the second time the contiguous United States has seen a total eclipse since 1979. The last one was in 2017, and the next is not expected for twenty years.

The "cosmic ballet" captured the imagination of the country, with an estimated 4 million Americans traveling for the once-in-a-lifetime experience.

In some cities, schools, businesses and institutions closed for the "Solar Eclipse Holiday." Celestial celebrations, themed parties and events were held across the country.

The universal excitement surrounding the phenomenon speaks to a society hungry for a shared positive experience - one that transcends the divisiveness of Americans' daily lives.

A Total Solar Eclipse occurs when the sun, moon and Earth enter precise alignment -- with the moon covering the sun and making its delicate atmosphere, the corona, visible to the naked eye. The moon blocked out the sun's light, casting a shadow across a swath of North America -- in this instance, from the Pacific Ocean west of Mexico to the Atlantic off of Canada's east coast.

Known as the path of totality, the strip is roughly 4,000 miles long and 115 miles wide, and runs from Mexico into Texas, through Arkansas, Indiana and Ohio, to New York, Vermont and up toward Maine to Canada.

Over half of the nation’s population lives within 250 miles of the path. Although a partial eclipse was viewable outside the path throughout the Lower 48 states, it did not produce the dramatic temporary nightfall experienced within totality.

For three to four minutes, everyone in the narrow zone watched as the sun plunged into the moon's shadow and day abruptly turned to night. The temperature dropped, and the light and wind changed as twinkling stars and planets appeared in the sky and streetlights automatically turned on.

Stargazers, who did not require protective eyewear during the brief total eclipse, caught a coveted glimpse of the sun’s glowing white corona, with shimmering crescent-shaped shadows dancing across the landscape.

As the moon fully eclipsed the sun, a last flash of light produced what appeared to be a spell-binding 360-degree sunset glow encompassing the viewer from every direction.

Then the sudden shift away from totality resulted in a rapid sunrise for those within its path. Some also experienced the appearance of corona rainbows, said to illuminate colors never before seen in nature.

Some animals, confused by darkness, turned to their nighttime routine or reacted with alarm. At the Dallas Zoo, giraffes and zebras started galloping, an Ostrich laid an egg, tortoises started mating, and guinea fowl crowed loudly. Elephants thumped their trunks on the ground and flamingos cowered together to protect their young. Some dogs barked, instinctively feeling the change, while cats, predictably, ignored the event.

It is easy to understand why ancient scholars attributed spiritual or religious significance to eclipses; experiencing one elicits powerful emotions. It has been said that half of the people who see an eclipse for the first time will cry.

Some claim it is proof of God, while others are merely humbled by the demonstration of natural forces that render their own problems insignificant.

But for a few precious minutes, millions of Americans of all ages, races, genders and political persuasions stood together under one sun and moon and marveled at the wonders of our shared universe.

Mark your calendars! The next total eclipse in the United States will take place in 2044. If you’re willing to travel, you can see one in Iceland, Portugal and Spain in 2026.

DemList will keep you informed.

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Kimberly Scott

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Sources: NASA, CNN, USA Today, Washington Post, NPR

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