Throughout History, Humanity Has Marveled at Solar Eclipses

Solar eclipses have fascinated humanity throughout time, and the shared experience of witnessing the phenomenon is something not often forgotten. Evening Standard/Getty Images

It's easy to imagine that those of us here in the early years of the 21st century are at a peak moment of science. We must be special because we exist right now, and are witnessing the wonders of the world as it is right now. It's helpful to remember, though, that everyone currently alive on the face of the Earth just occupies a tiny marker along the long, long line of human history.

Luckily, one of those markers arrives across the United States with the total solar eclipse of Monday, Aug. 21. "For us to come together in the country, this is a really amazing chance to just open the public's eyes to wonder, and get people to think about the most amazing natural phenomenon that can happen on the surface of the Earth," said Angela DesJardin, the principal investigator of the Eclipse Ballooning Project and director of the Montana Space Grant Consortium, during a NASA press conference in June. "It gets people to wonder and think about what's going on in the cosmos and come together in that very human way."

And so when something like a total solar eclipse comes calling, remember that people in the past, and all over the world, marveled at the same phenomenon — themselves sitting at their respective peaks of human advancement, even if from today's vantage they seem quaint and outdated. So too will we, in decades and centuries to come. For now, though, enjoy an eclipse if and as you can.

The circa-1847 illustration by Johann Christian Schoeller depicts the total solar eclipse of July 8, 1842, as seen from Vienna.
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The Rivabellosa Expedition set out to observe a total solar eclipse on July 18, 1860, near the city Miranda de Ebro in northern Spain.
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The Fram expedition headed to explore the Arctic from 1893-1896 and observed the April 6, 1894, total solar eclipse, as shown in this Fridtjof Nansen engraving.
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People in Vetralla, Italy, view a partial solar eclipse through wine bottles on Aug. 30, 1905. Modern viewers should use approved safety glasses to look at eclipses; bottles won't cut it.
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Parisians gather in front of the city's navy ministry to watch the April 17, 1912, solar eclipse.
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Women observing an annular solar eclipse on April 8, 1921 in Paris, France.
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A group of people gather at Vose Field in Westerly, Rhode Island, in zero-degree weather to watch the solar eclipse on Jan. 24, 1925.
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A group of New Yorkers gather in the Bronx neighborhood to view a solar eclipse on Jan. 24, 1925.
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Nurses on a hospital rooftop viewing an eclipse on June 29, 1927, through dark glasses.
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Crowds gather on a hill near Giggleswick, North Yorkshire, to view the June 29, 1927, eclipse.
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A group watches an eclipse through pieces of smoked glass on April 28, 1930.
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An amateur astronomer photographs a solar eclipse from the middle of a road on June 19, 1936.
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Australian students at Sydney University protect their eyes from the total solar eclipse of Oct. 31, 1948, by looking through pieces of cardboard and film.
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Two girls in London's Fleet Street district viewing the June 29, 1954, eclipse through a safety filter.
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An astronomer with Educational Expedition International sets up equipment in the desert of Mauritania, North Africa, to view a total solar eclipse on June 30, 1973.
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Mauritanian tribesmen watch the total eclipse with astronomers and Educational Expedition International members in North Africa.
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Residents of Denver, Colorado, protect their eyes during a partial solar eclipse on Feb. 22, 1979. Students at Stephen Knight Elementary School made viewing boxes to watch the eclipse by projection from the playground.
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A child uses undeveloped film to protect his eyes during the Feb. 16, 1980, total solar eclipse.
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People watch the total solar eclipse in Palembang, Indonesia, on March 9, 2016.
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