The Great American Eclipse lived up to its name in East Tennessee, drawing thousands of people from around the country, and around the world.
Celestial-watchers were spotted in Tennessee from Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Colorado — even the United Kingdom.
August 21, the path of totality tracked from Oregon to South Carolina. Those directly in the line had a two minute and 38 second treat — as the moon blocked the sun, the wispy tendrils of the sun's corona became visible.
And in the weeks before, people scrambled to get their hands on special solar filter glasses to protect their eyes.
About 20,000 people packed into downtown Sweetwater, in Monroe County, for a city-sponsored festival. Others traveled to Tsali Notch Vineyards, where the hilltop vantage point revealed a 360-degree sunset during totality.
“It was spectacular,” said photographer there. “I was blown away by it.”
While many pointed their cameras and eyes to the heavens, others turned to more earthly concerns. James Richmond proposed to his girlfriend Taylor Mchan during the eclipse — with an actual diamond ring to parallel the 'diamond ring' effect just before totality.
"Well, you know, I hope to be able to sit on my front porch swing and tell my grandkids about it one day and have a wonderful story to tell them," Richmond said.
Others were reminded how small we really are.
“I'm a speck on a speck in a speck on smaller speck, and I'm made up of smaller specks,” said Hal Flint, an onlooker at Tsali Notch.
The total eclipse was a once in a lifetime opportunity for many viewers — but it was also a chance for scientists to study the sun. During the transit, NASA sent twin planes to fly at 50,000 feet and record high-speed video of the corona. A team from Pellissippi State Community College joined other groups nationwide in launching high-altitude weather balloons to collect data and livestream.
In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, observers noticed impacts on wildlife.
“25 minutes to a half hour before totality, it started to get quieter,” said Kristina Plass, a volunteer for the National Park Service. “A few minutes before totality you could only see two or three bees on a plant that had been covered.
The Smokies event at Clingmans Dome was the highest viewing point anywhere East of Wyoming. The event was ticketed, and limited to 1500 attendees. It sold out quickly — just five minutes.
The view inspired possible future scientists like 4th grader Savannah Love. Her family traveled from North Georgia to the Great Smoky Mountains.
“Ah, it's totality, woah!” she said. “Super duper, look at it! Never seen anything like it!”
It was only the third total solar eclipse to cross the Smokies in 500 years.
Many felt the same way — for anyone in the path of totality, it was an unforgettable experience.
Did you miss the excitement? The next total solar eclipse in the U.S. is April 8, 2024, and will track from Texas to Maine.