SALEM, the United States, Aug. 21 (Xinhua) -- A string of tail lights can be seen on the Interstate 5 to the direction of Salem, Oregon, before 5 o'clock on Monday morning, as people from all over the world rushed to this small city for a first glimpse of a once-in-a-century total eclipse.
Car plates reveal that some drove as far as from New York, Pennsylvania, Texas or the Canadian state of Alberta to reach the town, which if not for the rare phenomena would be little known to the world.
By 5 o'clock, patrons lined up at a local starbucks after traveling through the night to beat the traffic, which local authorities warned may turn six-lane highways to a parking lot.
By 6 o'clock, parking lots around the Oregon state capitol have been all but filled, as has the square in front of the building with camp chairs and tripods. Scores of people waited in line outside the capitol for handout of free solar eclipse glasses, as all stock have been depleted on the market all over the United States days before the event.
The eclipse started a little past nine, with a dark arc slowly chipping away the edges of the sun, prompting viewers to put on their observing glasses and peered toward the sky.
Ryan Jackson, the creative director of the Montreal Planetarium in Canada, has set up nearly 10 cameras pointing toward different directions in the sky, forming a circle which he says can help him to fully capture the moment when the sky darkens.
"This is my first eclipse, and one of my biggest and most challenging tasks," he said, adding that he drove over 20 hours for this occasion.
Coming from further away are the Maletzs, who are a retired couple from Dresden, Germany. Michael, the husband, said he has long been a eclipse fan, but it was only in 1999 that he had a chance to see his first in Germany.
"But this time will be my first total eclipse," the 64-year-old said, adding that he plans to see as many as possible before his body fails him.
As time wore on, the sky began to darken. By 10 o'clock, the dark sphere of the Moon has already covered about four-fifth of the sun, edging toward the climax.
A total eclipse is not a rare occurrence, appearing on Earth roughly every 18 months, but a total eclipse that stretches from coast to coast in the United States is much rarer, with the last one taking place nearly a century ago and the next one scheduled for 2045.
A band of shadow, 110 km in width, will blindfold the United States from Oregon on the West coast to South Carolina on the East coast, directly crossing 14 states.
U.S. media reported that 12 million people live in the path of the total eclipse, while 200 million within one day's driving distance from the band. Some experts predicted this eclipse will be the most watched in history.
At precisely 10:17 a.m. local time, the darkness finally engulfs the sun and night falls on the cheering crowd. Indian tribes performed dances to the moon and the sun, celebrating life, while others embrace and kiss, some even had tears down their cheeks.
Street lamps came back on and stars were seen twinkling from the sky. But before long light began to reappear from behind the moon, first as a diamond-ring, then a arc of white light.
The total eclipse in Salem would only last 1 minute and 54 seconds, but as the moon's relative speed with the Earth slows, regions in the central States would be blessed with longer eclipses, as long as 2 minutes and 40 seconds in some places of Illinois and Kentucky.
Moving at a speed of thousands of kilometers per hour, it would only take about 90 minutes for the total eclipse to pass through its course in the United States and move into the Atlantic Ocean.
As the shadow moved across the country, tens of thousands of people stood still and watched the sky, even U.S. President Donald Trump appeared on the White House's balcony with his family.
According to media reports, distraction caused by the eclipse will cost U.S. companies 700 million U.S. dollars but other analysts argued with all the tourism and consumption related to the event, the economy has actually benefitted from the eclipse.