Solar eclipse 2024: I saw last total eclipse in US. You shouldn't miss eclipse today.

It’s hard to believe it was already seven years ago, because the total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017, still feels like a fresh memory. With the next total eclipse happening today in Ohio and many other parts of the country, I’ve been thinking a lot about what I witnessed.

The path of totality crossed over Salem, Oregon, where I grew up and where my parents still live. So I made sure to plan a visit during that time.

I figured it would be something special to see. And it was, putting it mildly.

Having grown up in the Pacific Northwest with natural beauty all around, I’ve always loved nature and enjoying the great outdoors. When camping as a kid, some of my favorite memories are getting up in the night and being dazzled by the tapestry of stars overhead.

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Yet, the idea of space and the seemingly infinite number of planets and stars is unsettling. It makes one feel so insignificant and small.

Here's what you need for the total eclipse on Monday.
Here's what you need for the total eclipse on Monday.

When events like an eclipse happen, they bring to the forefront how we’re just one planet hurtling through this never-ending void.

So I was expecting to feel something along those lines. I did, but I hadn’t anticipated just how breathtaking it would be.

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On a hot (thankfully clear!) summer morning, we watched the whole thing from my parents’ backyard. The colors around us changed as the moon covered more of the sun. It was like observing a sunset in fast motion.

That moment, though, when totality occurred (when the moon fully covers the sun) was simply beautiful, with the light of the sun’s corona dancing in the sky. I don’t think I took my eyes from it the entire 2 1/2 minutes.

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My parents and husband saw it with me, and I recently asked them what the experience was like from their perspective.

“It was a whole lot cooler than I thought it was going to be,” says my hard-to-impress husband. He remembers the stars coming out and then the birds beginning to sing as if it were dawn. “It was awesome.”

The author watching the 2017 total solar eclipse from her parents' backyard in Oregon.
The author watching the 2017 total solar eclipse from her parents' backyard in Oregon.

My dad recalls it as “wondrous” and “delightful,” especially because he got to see it from his own yard and didn't have to contend with the flocks of people who had descended on our state.

My mom had more mixed feelings. “It felt like we were being plunged into never-ending darkness,” she recalls. Once the sun began to emerge again, she felt better.

We all describe the eclipse as unforgettable.

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A once-in-a-lifetime event for many

Part of what makes a total solar eclipse so special is that it's rare. When such events happen over large swaths of the country – as was the case in 2017 and will be on Monday – it’s a bonding experience for millions of Americans.

The excitement and buildup ahead of this year’s eclipse and the fact so many of us will watch it at the same time is reminiscent of a celestial Super Bowl.

An Oregon pinot noir commemorating the 2017 total solar eclipse.
An Oregon pinot noir commemorating the 2017 total solar eclipse.

In 2017, NASA estimates, more than 200 million U.S. adults viewed the eclipse either in person or electronically.

Monday’s eclipse has the potential to reach an even wider swath of the country because of where it will arc, starting in Texas and ending in Maine. And totality will last longer this time – up to more than four minutes.

According to Scientific American, from 1924 to 2023, only 13 total solar eclipses crossed the contiguous United States or Alaska. In the next 100 years, just 11 will be visible.

After Monday, the next total eclipse that will cross a wide swath of the United States does not occur until 2045.

My nieces and nephews will be in 'smack middle' of path of totality

This year, I will unfortunately not be in the path of totality. But my brother and his family in Texas will be. (I'm crossing my fingers Mother Nature cooperates for them to see it clearly.)

I called my nieces and nephews this week to see what they think about getting to watch the eclipse. Monday will be their first total solar eclipse, although last fall they saw the annular eclipse, which is when the moon passes between the sun and the Earth but when it is at or near its farthest point from Earth.

The author's parents and husband take in the 2017 total solar eclipse in Oregon.
The author's parents and husband take in the 2017 total solar eclipse in Oregon.

Here’s what the kids had to say:

Avila, age 14: “I’ll be very excited to be able to see a full eclipse instead of a partial one. This will be particularly interesting to be able to see the effects in the sky and in the shadows, especially with so many trees around.”

Avila, who is very artistic, recalls the light from the annular eclipse in October as very “startling”: “All of the trees down the street and in our yard started to cast the most unusual and weird shadows.”

Lily, age 12: “I haven’t seen a full eclipse, and it sounds really exciting.”

Campion, age 10: “Our house is so perfect. We’re in the smack middle of it, so it’s going to be pitch black except the cool thing is that on the horizon it will be like a giant ring.”

Benedict, age 8: “It turns out the whole sky turns black when it passes over us. Isn’t that amazing? We’re going to be in the smack middle.”

Gerard, age 5, wasn’t as keen to talk to me about this, but he did ask his mom if he would have to go to bed during the day because it will get dark.

They all promised to send me photos and videos to document their first ever total eclipse, and I look forward to seeing it through their eyes.

Wherever you are, I hope you, too, can experience this magnificent event.

Ingrid Jacques is a columnist at USA TODAY. Contact her at ijacques@usatoday.com or on X, formerly Twitter: @Ingrid_Jacques

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: What will happen during today’s total solar eclipse? Is it worth hype?