Last year’s solar eclipse viewed by record number of Americans

People continued to seek information for months after the eclipse.

The August 21, 2017, “Great American Eclipse” was observed by 216 million or 88 percent of American adults over 18 either in person or online, according to a survey conducted by Jon Miller, director of the International Center for Advancement of Scientific Literacy at the University of Michigan’s (U-M) Institute for Social Research.

Following the event, Americans continued to seek information about it through library visits, online searches, and conversations with their friends, Miller found in his national study, which is available for viewing online.

Miller polled people on the evening of August 21 and continued doing so for the following week. He followed up by surveying some of the same people and some new ones at the end of 2017 and again in February-March of this year.

“What we found was there was a substantial amount of people going online, going to libraries, talking to their friends, trying to figure out what was going to happen with the eclipse before and after the event. To a large extent, scholars have watched what people do before a scientific event but not what they do after. The event can be a stimulus that causes people to look for more information,” he said.

The number of Americans who viewed the total solar eclipse, either directly or electronically, is among the largest to view any public event, including sporting events and entertainment productions.

Of the 21 million adults who traveled to locations in or near the narrow path of totality, respondents engaged in an average of 24 activities seeking information about the eclipse in the two months leading up to the event.

Several months after the eclipse, many people continued to seek information about it and about space-related issues, Miller found in his year-end poll.

Information sought prior to the eclipse most frequently involved searches for safe methods of viewing it, including eclipse glasses and pinhole projectors.

Just three percent of those who observed the eclipse did so as part of an organized group. The majority viewed it with family members, friends, or co-workers.

“This level of public interest and information seeking about a science-oriented event is unparalleled,” Miller emphasized. “It suggests that groups and organizations interested in fostering increased adult interest in science should think about post-event programming to provide resources and a forum for these discussions.”

Last year’s spectacle was the first total solar eclipse visible in the mainland United States since 1979.

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