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Tens of millions to witness total eclipse of sun in US

In the United States, tens of millions of people are expected to witness a total eclipse of the sun later today.

The rare astronomical event will cause total darkness for a few minutes in the middle of the afternoon (evening Irish time) in a 180km wide arc stretching from Mexico to Newfoundland.

A partial solar eclipse will be visible across Ireland at around 7.55pm when the moon will start passing in front of the sun.

Events marking the solar eclipse are being held across North America as the celestial event promises a rare blend of commerce, science and celebration.

The moon’s shadow will land on Mexico’s Pacific coast at 7.07pm Irish time, then speed northeast across a 15-state swathe of the United States and on to Canada, exiting the continent over Newfoundland just under an hour-and-a-half later.

Festivals, viewing parties, and a mass wedding are planned along the eclipse “path of totality” in the US, where the moon will completely obscure the sun’s light for up to a few minutes – if rain clouds do not cause an obstruction, which could be the case in the southern and central US.

“Eclipses have a special power,” NASA administrator Bill Nelson said recently.

“They move people to feel a kind of reverence for the beauty of our universe,” he added.

This year’s path of totality is 185km wide and home to nearly 32 million Americans, with an additional 150 million living less than 321km from the strip.

Those further away can view a partial eclipse or follow a webcast provided by US space agency NASA.

The next total solar eclipse that can be seen from a large part of North America will not come around until 2044.

US businesses are capitalising on the excitement with special events, while hotels and short-term rentals in prime viewing locations have been booked out for months.

At the Stonehenge II Park in Ingram, Texas, a replica of the prehistoric structure in England, eclipse watchers had gathered from across the world.

“This is our third solar eclipse,” 62-year-old Jim Saltigerald, who was attending with his wife and two children, said.

“We’re all praying and hoping that we have a good break in the clouds and get to see it,” he said.

In Cleveland, where local officials expect some 200,000 visitors, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame plans a four-day “Solarfest” of live music.

Some schools in the US along the path will be closed or letting students out early

In Russellville, Arkansas, 300 couples are set to exchange vows at “A Total Eclipse of the Heart” mass wedding ceremony, with the “thin circle of light around the moon resembling a huge wedding ring in the sky!” the event’s website said.

Many schools along the path will be closed or letting students out early.

Several airlines have advertised flights scheduled to pass under the eclipse, while Delta Airlines has planned two special trips along the path of totality.

The Perryman Group, a Texas-based research firm, estimates direct and indirect economic impacts of this year’s eclipse could reach $6 billion (€5.5 billion).

NASA plans to launch a trio of sounding rockets before, during and just after the eclipse to measure changes caused by the sudden darkness to the ionosphere, an upper layer of the atmosphere important for long-distance radio communication.

The eclipse also offers an opportunity to study the sun’s corona, the outer layer of the star’s atmosphere which is normally hidden by the blinding light of the surface.

Researchers are particularly interested in the sun being near the peak of its 11-year cycle.

Startling animal behaviour has been noted during past eclipses: giraffes have been seen galloping, while roosters and crickets can start crowing and chirping.

NASA has invited the public to contribute to research through its citizen-science project Eclipse Soundscapes, by recording the sounds of nature and submitting their multi-sensory observations.

In humans, eclipses trigger feelings of awe and “prosocial” tendencies towards others, research has found.

Safety is paramount, with authorities stressing people must use certified eclipse glasses to prevent retinal injury.

Past eclipses have been followed by increases in hospital visits by people with complaints of blurry vision, changes in colour perception and blind spots, with the outlook for recovery far from certain.

Only those within the path of totality can safely remove their eye protection and admire the corona peeking out from behind the silhouette of the moon for a few moments.

But they must be certain of when it begins and ends and wear glasses in time, health professionals said.

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