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Millions of Americans witnessed today's solar eclipse

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

And at Headlands Beach State Park in Ohio, the moon obscured the sun at 3:14 p.m. Eastern time. And there was really only one word that said it all.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: Whoa.

(CHEERING)

CHANG: And the crowd that gathered there on the shore of Lake Erie included NPR science correspondent Nell Greenfieldboyce. Hey, Nell.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Hey.

CHANG: Hey. I guess there are worse assignments to get sent to (laughter), so...

GREENFIELDBOYCE: This was pretty awesome.

CHANG: I bet it...

GREENFIELDBOYCE: It was...

CHANG: ...Was.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: ...Pretty awesome. What did that person say, good-weird? It was a good-weird kind of assignment for me. That's for sure.

CHANG: And you got almost four minutes of totality? What was that like?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: It felt like a long time. You know, I'm here on this beach by the lake, and when it was happening, everybody had their backs to the lake. No one was looking at the water 'cause we were all looking up at the sun.

CHANG: (Laughter).

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And there were these thin clouds. We were looking at it through thin clouds. And I know people don't like clouds for an eclipse, but for us, it was amazing because there was, like, a ring around the sun, like a rainbow ring around the sun right before the eclipse. And so that was cool in and of itself. But then the sun was just disappearing, slipping away, and everything got kind of yellow.

CHANG: Ooh.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: The light turned eerie, and it got dark, and it got cold. I was just wearing a T-shirt, and I felt cold.

CHANG: (Laughter).

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And when that last little bit of sun slipped away, people started screaming. People were just - it was pandemonium. And, you know, you took off your glasses, and it was dark. And the sky was just dark. And there were, like - there was planets you could see, like, little stars.

CHANG: Wow.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: And all along the horizon there were these beautiful colors of pink and orange. And then up in the sky was the eclipsed sun. And I just - people struggle to explain what it looks like. It's a glowing white ring - a thin, glowing white ring. It's just like this perfect circle of black. It's like this totally alien thing in the sky. It looks like nothing you normally see.

CHANG: Oh, that is so cool. And that is nothing like what we saw out here in California. So I'm totally jealous. But let me ask you this. An eclipse, I mean, it involves a bit of waiting, right? So what was the whole vibe at the park like today?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: It was like a holiday vibe. It was like - people were either off of school or took off from work, and they were on the beach, and they were just, like, picnicking and hanging out and waiting. And, you know, but right before the eclipse, everyone got quiet. You know, they just sat in their chairs or on their blankets. They put their glasses on and just watched the sun disappearing through the eclipse glasses. And then when the sun was covered, you know, it was just like - we were all just sort of wandering around, like, in this weird daze of...

CHANG: (Laughter).

GREENFIELDBOYCE: ...Unreal feelings. And, you know, there was also - in addition to the white ring, at the very bottom, there was this little bit of bright red, which I believe is, like, a huge cloud of gas held in place...

CHANG: Wow.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: ...By the sun's magnetic field. And it was just really striking in a sky that was all white and black. There was just this little bit of bright red. It was so, so strange. And once the sun started coming back out, we saw this flash of, like, a diamond ring effect. And people were, like, so emotional. Someone behind me - this couple got engaged.

CHANG: What?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Like, I turn around, and someone's, like, down on his knees...

CHANG: Oh, my God.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: ...Like, proposing to this woman.

CHANG: That's amazing.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So it was quite an event. It was really something to see. It was spectacular.

CHANG: Do we even know how many people saw this eclipse? Like, can you even measure that?

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Well, it depends on the clouds, of course. Some people were bedeviled by clouds. But 30 million people - an estimated 30 million people live in the zone where you could see the total solar eclipse. And then another 150 million live within a short driving distance. So, you know, some people I talked to said that this eclipse could be even bigger than the one seven years ago. And, you know, around 150 million people saw that one.

CHANG: Yeah. And it looks like you were lucky enough to find a place that was pretty cloud free, right? You mentioned that.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Yeah, it was a roller coaster day with the weather. You know, we were driving around, looking at all the weather reports. Lots of other people were too. We saw people here from all over. You know, people came down from Buffalo or from central Pennsylvania. And, you know, at one point we got out the sunscreen, but then the clouds rolled in.

CHANG: (Laughter).

GREENFIELDBOYCE: It was touch and go. But in the end, it was worth it. It was totally worth it.

CHANG: That is NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce. Thank you so much, Nell.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nell Greenfieldboyce
Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.