“Eclipse Across America,” will air live Monday, April 8, beginning at 2 p.m. ET on ABC, ABC News Live, National Geographic Channel, Nat Geo WILD, Disney+ and Hulu, as well as on network social media platforms.

A total solar eclipse is an astronomical phenomenon steeped in lore that has captured the imaginations of sky-watchers and the curiosity of scientists for millennia.

On April 8, 2024, parts of the contiguous United States will be plunged from daylight into twilight when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth and, for a short time, completely obscures the sun.

PHOTO: The moon transits the sun during the 2017 total solar eclipse as seen from Weiser, Idaho.

The moon transits the sun during the 2017 total solar eclipse as seen from Weiser, Idaho.

Kyle Green/Getty Images

The track of the moon’s shadow across Earth’s surface is called the path of totality. In the U.S., the path will begin over San Antonio, Texas and will travel through Oklahoma, Arkansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, passing just north of Bangor. Small parts of Tennessee and Michigan will also experience the total solar eclipse, according to NASA.

If you’re not in the path of totality, you’ll still be able to see a partial solar eclipse in the U.S. But if you want to witness the total solar eclipse on April 8, you’ll need to be within that 115-mile-wide path.

PHOTO: People gather to observe the total solar eclipse with solar eclipse glasses at the Times Square in New York City, Aug. 21, 2017.

People gather to observe the total solar eclipse with solar eclipse glasses at the Times Square in New York City, Aug. 21, 2017.

Volkan Furuncu/Getty Images

Ancient recordings of eclipses

Turning back the pages of total solar eclipse history, the celestial spectacles have elicited varied interpretations and reactions over time and across the world.

Humanity’s first record of an eclipse is believed to have been made on Nov. 30, 3340 B.C.E, at Loughcrew Megalithic Monument in County Meath, Ireland, according to NASA, which cites the 2002 findings from Paul Griffin, an “archaeoastronomer” from Ireland.

A series of overlapping circular rock carvings, called petroglyphs, appear to depict the moon partially obstructing the sun, which Griffin calculated would have coincided with an eclipse from that time.

PHOTO: Total solar eclipse is seen in California on August 21, 2017.

Total solar eclipse is seen in California on August 21, 2017.

Tayfun Coskun/Getty Images

Immediately in front of the carvings, previous archaeologists discovered the charred human remains of nearly 50 individuals, which Griffin hypothesizes could have been the result of a Neolithic-era human sacrifice ritual perhaps tied to the eclipse.

A third of the way around the world from Ireland, in Anyang, China, what are also believed to be eclipse records were discovered carved into tortoiseshell fragments, called “oracle bones,” in approximately 1200 B.C.E. and were later studied by astronomers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The cryptic etchings declared “The Sun has been eaten,” according to NASA. Researchers also found records of eclipses in the area dating from 1226 B.C.E., 1198 B.C.E., 1172 B.C.E., 1163 B.C.E., and 1161 B.C.E.

PHOTO: A total solar eclipse occurs on August 21, 2017, at Mary's River Covered Bridge, in Chester, IL, USA.

A total solar eclipse occurs on August 21, 2017, at Mary’s River Covered Bridge, in Chester, IL, USA.

Patrick Gorski/Getty Images

In Chaco Canyon, New Mexico, a few hours northeast of Albuquerque, a petroglyph discovered in 1992 appears to depict a solar eclipse from July 11, 1097, NASA reports. The rock carving from the ancestral Pueblo people “has a swirling loop jetting off the side – perhaps representing a coronal mass ejection from the sun,” according to the agency.

Coronal mass ejections (CMEs) are expulsions of plasma, threaded by magnetic field lines, that are ejected from the sun’s corona, or outer atmosphere, according to NASA. CMEs look like twisted rope, dubbed “flux rope” by scientists.

Solar eclipse mythology

Throughout history, eclipses have been interpreted by many cultures as a disruption of the natural order, and in some cases a “bad omen,” according to Britannica.

In ancient China, the etchings discovered in Anyang depicted solar eclipses as celestial dragons attacking and devouring the sun.

“To frighten away the dragon and save the sun, people would bang drums and make loud noises during an eclipse,” according to Britannica.

PHOTO:  View of total eclipse, Denver, CO, Feb. 26, 1979.

View of total eclipse, Denver, CO, Feb. 26, 1979.

Denver Post via Getty Images

In South America, the ancient Incan people believed solar eclipses were a “sign of wrath and displeasure” from Inti, the “all-powerful sun god,” Britannica further says.

“Following an eclipse, spiritual leaders would attempt to divine the source of his anger and determine which sacrifices should be offered,” Britannica notes, adding that fasting and even instances of human sacrifice were common during a solar eclipse.

Choctaw Native Americans, the third-largest Native American nation – originally based in what is now Alabama and Mississippi – created lore similar to that of ancient Chinese people to explain solar eclipses.

“According to Choctaw legend, a mischievous black squirrel gnawing on the sun is the cause of eclipses,” according to Britannica. “Like the Chinese dragon, the squirrel must be frightened away by the clamor and yells of the event’s human witnesses.”

In West Africa, the Tammari people, also known as Batammariba, from the northern regions of Togo and Benin, believed the celestial bodies intersecting during an eclipse represented human feuds on Earth.

“According to their legend, human anger and fighting spread to the sun and the moon, who began to fight with each other and caused an eclipse,” Britannica notes.

Advances in science

It’s generally believed that the influential Indian mathematician and astronomer Aryabhatta is the first person who recorded observations regarding the true cause of eclipses. Born in the late fifth century, his only surviving work, “Aryabhatiya,” believed to have been written in the early sixth century, includes mathematics to predict solar and lunar eclipses.

More recently, a solar eclipse helped prove one of the most important scientific theories in history.

Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, published in 1915, declared in part that space and time together behave like a fabric, and that the mass of a celestial body can warp that fabric and, in turn, alter the path of light itself along that curvature. However, it wasn’t until three years later that Einstein’s theory was validated by a solar eclipse.

Sir Arthur Eddington led an expedition to the island of Principe, off the West Africa coast, to observe the May 29, 1919 solar eclipse. With the moon obscuring the sun’s glare, scientists were able to see that certain stars adjacent to the sun appeared to be in the wrong position, a result of their light being warped by the sun’s gravity before it reached Earth – just as Einstein had predicted.

PHOTO: German-born physicist Albert Einstein, circa 1939.

German-born physicist Albert Einstein, circa 1939.

Mpi/Getty Images

Nearly 100 years later, in 2017, a total solar eclipse swept across the contiguous U.S. for the first time in 38 years, from Oregon to South Carolina. That event allowed scientists, aided by collection of 11 spacecraft from NASA and partner organizations, to provide observations of the sun, moon and Earth that likewise were only available during the eclipse.

“This eclipse gave us an opportunity to cement the idea of the sun-Earth connection,” Dr. Lika Guhathakurta, who headed NASA’s science efforts for the Aug. 21 eclipse, said at the time. “A variety of new observations, instruments and observational platforms were enabled by this eclipse. It will be fascinating to watch how these develop into new research plans and new technology for future use.”

PHOTO: Pupils at Stephen Knight School view the solar eclipse in Dencer, CO, Feb. 26, 1979.

Pupils at Stephen Knight School view the solar eclipse in Dencer, CO, Feb. 26, 1979.

Denver Post via Getty Images

Fast-forward to this month, when NASA is preparing for a mission during the April 8 total solar eclipse to study how the sudden decrease in sunlight affects our upper atmosphere, according to the agency.

The Atmospheric Perturbations around Eclipse Path (APEP) mission will launch three suborbital “sounding” rockets in succession – one approximately 35 minutes before the peak of the eclipse, one during the eclipse peak, and one 35 minutes after the peak

“Each rocket will deploy four small scientific instruments that will measure changes in electric and magnetic fields, density, and temperature,” according to NASA.

Additionally, in Missouri, a team of students from Virginia Tech will launch “high altitude scientific weather balloons” along the total solar eclipse path as part of the National Eclipse Ballooning Project for NASA.

The balloons will fly at an altitude of approximately 75,000 feet and will capture imagery of the eclipse at totality “from a completely different perspective from those viewing on the ground,” according to the project’s press release.

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