Solar eclipse chasers could form largest mass migration in history

The best locations to see Monday’s total solar eclipse are within a day’s drive of more than 200 million Americans — and the mega event could see one of the largest mass migrations in human history.

Experts believe the number of Americans who will hit the road for a better view could be the largest mass migration — for any event — in history.

The Federal Highway Agency (FHWA)  estimates about 12 million Americans live within the path of totality, and it expects between 2 million and 7 million Americans will make the trip.

But Doug Hecox, spokesman for the FHWA says it is conservative, as it uses information like daily traffic data, increases in hotel prices and parking shortages to extrapolate an estimate.

The eclipse’s path of totality, which will run through 14 U.S. states, is within a day’s drive of more than 200 million Americans. Image courtesy of NASA

Hecox told UPI Thursday that there could be a “very large margin of error” in the travelers’ estimate considering there is no precedent for such an event. He said that for previous eclipses, only part of the country was affected; Monday’s will impact most of the continental United States.

“There has been nothing like this in the past 99 years. There really is no comparable data,” Hecox said. “In this particular case, this will affect the entire country.”

The eclipse will occur on a sloping stretch of the United States about 70 miles wide and 2,800 miles long. The track beneath the eclipse is known as the “path of totality,” which includes the states where the phenomenon will be best viewed — Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia and South Carolina.

“This path, where the moon will completely cover the sun and the sun’s tenuous atmosphere — the corona — can be seen, will stretch from Salem, Oregon, to Charleston in South Carolina,” NASA said. “Observers outside this path will still see a partial solar eclipse where the moon covers part of the sun’s disk.”

As the last total solar eclipse over the United States occurred in 1979, the U.S. Department of Transportation is reminding people to use caution as they travel.

Thousands of eclipse-related events and viewing parties will be held across the United States — both inside and outside the path of totality — and road tripping to one of the states that will be directly under the path has caught fire on social media.

Experts say that when the eclipse arrives Monday morning, travelers should not stop on or park alongside highways, take photographs, or wear the opaque eclipse-viewing glasses while driving.

The FHWA says drivers should get off the road to see the eclipse — and turn on their vehicles’ headlights so they can be seen during the blackout.

Meanwhile, researchers at NASA are counting on the participation of thousands of citizen scientists to document Monday’s solar eclipse and to gather usable data for additional research.

Scientists want to find out how the brief disappearance of the sun will alter clouds, weather, plants, animals and more. The event — and the data gathered before, during and after — is expected to inspire studies by biologists, astrophysicists, sociologists, meteorologists and scientists from many other fields.

According to reports, more than 1,000 DSLR camera users have volunteered to share their eclipse photographs with scientists working on the Eclipse Megamovie project. Organizers are still looking for more citizen photographers to sign up.

Megamovie scientists will stitch together images to form a high-definition movie — a moving collage showcasing the eclipse as it was seen across the country.

Hugh Hudson, a research physicist at the University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory, dreamed up the project.


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