The Most Talked About Event in Human History

(Header image from Eclipse2017.org)

On Monday, August 21, a total solar eclipse will traverse the United States from Oregon to South Carolina. It will be the first one visible here since 1918 and the first one in the digital age, but not the first to alter behavior on our planet. As the sun gets obscured, day becomes night. Temperatures drop. Cows return to their barn to sleep. Moths replace butterflies. People shriek, cheer, or stare in awe. As the date approaches, one can only wonder if this event will live up to the attention it’s getting.

 

 

It’s a tall order to fill. Reddit user HanSulu noticed “significantly more ‘hype’ about this solar eclipse over any other solar eclipses in the past.” As he noted, some of this can be attributed to more public interest in science.

 

Public figures like Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Bill Nye have encouraged curiosity, learning, and scientific accomplishment in an era where even basic science is questioned daily. These individuals have 11.4 million, 8.5 million, and 5.3 million followers respectively, not to mention Netflix specials and theater tours. It’s safe to say they have fostered a large audience with an appetite for some cold, hard, solar eclipse facts in their feeds.

 

Solar Eclipse and Social

The solar eclipse has already been mentioned thousands of times on social networks because this is the first astronomical event in America in the era of social media. Publishers appeal to their audiences by spreading the news, which is then shared to readers’ own feeds and friends. People are crowdsourcing watch parties within their personal networks. It’s tough to avoid regular mentions (and weird memes) of the eclipse, especially if you live within the path of totality.

Eclipse memes from http://americaneclipseusa.com/category/social-media-memes/
Memes from American Eclipse USA

 

Solar Eclipse and Search

It isn’t only social media clamoring for more information. The Washington Post recently noted changes in search behaviors leading up to the big event. Google searches of “solar eclipse” have been generally stagnant – except for a tremendous uptick in searches that follows the path of totality across the country.

Search data map from Washington Post
Search data map from Washington Post

 

 

Statisticians have predicted as many as 7 million people will travel to watch the phenomenon, with many Americans living within a day’s drive of the 70-mile-wide path. Those people might be searching more about the logistics of the trip than the eclipse itself, or maybe they’re seasoned eclipse-chasers and know exactly what to expect. Search behavior can be used to predict everything from flu season to mosquito hatchings, so what we see on Monday should confirm the accuracy of that prediction.

 

Solar Eclipse and Brands

Seizing on a hot cultural trend, brands are getting in on the organic conversation around the eclipse. Chiquita is trying to claim the eclipse as their own branded event, “The Banana Sun.” The campaign appeals to those not on the path and will only see a partial eclipse: a crescent sun as the moon passes. They made a lackluster Facebook Messenger Chat Bot that should give facts and information about the eclipse, but is most useful for the alarm that alerts you to the Banana Sun in real time. On the big day, Chiquita will give away banana-shaped eclipse glasses near the Flatiron Building, and it’s already bought banners on pages talking about the eclipse. Hopefully its media plan targets people that live within the path too; those people are clearly hungry for information.

Banana Sun - Chiquita

We’ll doubtlessly see the event memorialized as soon as the it begins, with people posting pics of their watch parties, friends in eclipse glasses, using flash to be seen in the darkness of day.

One professor (in agreement with scientists across the country) believes this will be “the most photographed, most shared, most tweeted event in human history.”

This seems likely, but it may also generate more than just tweets and shares. The eclipse will be remembered as a cosmic phenomenon, largely because of the way it’s bringing the country together on common ground. We all share the same sun, the same moon, and when they cross, the country will hopefully feel a shared connection to our planet and its place in the universe. The timing of the eclipse is prophetic, and we can only hope the connection alters behavior for the better.

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