America’s solar eclipse might have been the most watched in history

See Vox’s collection of photos of the solar eclipse and the people who watched it around the country.
Scott Olson/Getty Images

Monday’s solar eclipse was truly an American experience, visible as a partial eclipse from all 50 states and as a total eclipse from a 70-mile-wide sliver of 14 states. While total solar eclipses occur somewhere on Earth about every 18 months, it has been 38 years since the last total solar eclipse passed through the United States, and 99 years since the last coast-to-coast eclipse.

And this eclipse was certainly historic. While it’s impossible to know exactly how many people saw it, the Associated Press is reporting that it was the most observed and most photographed eclipse in history. That squares with what Rick Fienberg of the American Astronomical Society predicted last week.

At a NASA briefing in June, Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the agency's Science Mission Directorate, said that it is ultimately impossible to judge the relative audience of the 2017 eclipse.

"My personal feeling is that it will be the most watched," Zurbuchen said at the time, citing the many ways it would be available both in person and online, "but I can't prove that scientifically. We don't have really hard numbers on any [previous eclipses].”

What we do have is these numbers:

(We’ll be updating this post as more estimates roll in.)

First-grade students from Oyster Adams Bilingual School in Washington, DC, watch the eclipse as part of their first day of class activities on August 21, 2017.
AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Chief among those excited and engaged in the eclipse were young people. CNN’s poll found people’s excitement about the eclipse to be consistently inversely correlated with age.

Hundreds of students participated today in an array of citizen science projects to photograph and document the event. This is an “incredible opportunity to excite and inspire future scientists as so many of these volunteers and students are just getting introduced to science,” France Córdova, director of the National Science Foundation, wrote for HuffPost.

Rick Yeames, an amateur astronomer from New Hampshire who traveled to Casper, Wyoming, to view the eclipse, likened the event to the Apollo space program in its potential to inspire young people with science. “Millions of American children just had a life-changing experience that could inspire them to get into STEM,” he said.

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