The United States, Mexico and Canada experienced a total eclipse on April 8 for the first time since 2017.  

The last total solar eclipse that was visible to the United States occurred on Aug. 21, 2017. This event, often referred to as the “Great American Eclipse,” traversed a narrow path of totality stretching from the Pacific Northwest to the Southeastern United States. Millions of people across the country witnessed the moon completely block out the sun, creating a memorable and awe-inspiring celestial display.

On Monday, April 8, people from across the U.S., Mexico and Canada witnessed the total eclipse, marking the first one of this decade. So, what makes this total eclipse so different from the one in 2017?

Scientists note that the eclipse on Monday had a much wider path of totality. Meaning, more people were able to witness the total eclipse than in 2017. Around 31.6 million live in the path of totality this year, compared to just 12 million in 2017. 

This wider path of totality allowed for the eclipse to pass over many more cities and densely populated areas. Making it one of the most talked about eclipses of the century. 

Solar eclipses occur when the sun, moon and Earth align perfectly in a straight line, with the moon positioned between the sun and our planet. This alignment is rare in the vastness of space, also making solar eclipses relatively rare events for any location on Earth. The precision necessary for this alignment portrays just how intricate the celestial bodies in our solar system are.

Solar eclipses provide scientists with invaluable opportunities to study the sun, moon and Earth’s atmosphere in unprecedented detail. During a total solar eclipse, researchers can observe phenomena such as the sun’s corona, solar flares and the sun’s chromosphere, which are normally obscured by the sun’s intense glare. 

By studying these features of the sun, scientists can gain insights into solar physics, space weather and the dynamics of the Earth-sun-moon system. Furthermore, solar eclipses serve as a platform for public engagement in science, inspiring curiosity and fostering interest in astronomy and space exploration.

Perhaps most importantly, solar eclipses have a unique ability to unite people from all walks of life in a shared moment of wonder and awe. Regardless of cultural background, language or nationality, the sight of the moon’s shadow gracefully traversing the Earth’s surface evokes a sense of collective amazement and appreciation for the beauty of the cosmos. 

Whether viewed through high-powered telescopes, special eclipse glasses or simply with the naked eye, the experience of witnessing a solar eclipse leaves a lasting impression on those fortunate enough to experience it.

Throughout history, solar eclipses have been held with cultural significance and interpreted in various ways by different civilizations. Ancient cultures often viewed eclipses as omens or celestial messages from the gods, sparking myths, legends and rituals. The precise prediction of eclipses also played a crucial role in the development of early astronomy and calendars. 

Today, solar eclipses continue to captivate people across the globe, fostering a sense of unity and wonder as humanity collectively gazes skyward to witness this celestial event.