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Solar Eclipse: TV Aims to Capture Emotion Around Moon’s ‘Magical’ Moment

For TV news producers, delivering live coverage of Monday’s total solar eclipse will be akin to covering a celestial sporting event and a cross-country tailgate party at the same time.

The challenge is to be sure to have maximum impact in the big moment — the estimated two minutes and change when parts of the country will be darkened by the shadow of the moon — and plenty of on-the-ground material to capture the revelry before and after.

“I’m looking at it as a giant block party,” said Marc Burstein, senior executive producer of special events for ABC News. “We’re going to have really good storytellers on the ground that will be able to bring you the excitement from where they are.”

ABC News’ live coverage from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. ET will feature reports from 12 locations within the “path of totality,” the 73-mile wide swath in which the total eclipse will be visible. The diagonal route stretches the length of the nation, starting in Oregon around 9:05 a.m. PT and ending just after 4 p.m. ET in Charleston, S.C. The peaks of the total eclipse in the path of totality will emerge between 7:15 a.m. ET and 2:47 p.m. ET, depending on the location.

The stars have truly aligned to make Monday’s natural phenomenon a once-in-a-lifetime event, according to Jackie Faherty, an astrophysicist at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. The path of totality is smack dab in the middle of the United States, and it’s unusually long. The time of year and time of day are also conducive to public viewing.

These factors have helped galvanize public interest in an event that goes a long way toward teaching one of the foundational rules for understanding the natural world: Earth orbits the sun and the moon orbits Earth. Every so often, the moon passes in front of the sun as part of its regular trek around Earth. This time around, Earth’s own rotation is such that the moon will be close to Earth at the time the moon cruises past the sun — another factor that lengthens the path of totality, Faherty said. She’ll be taking in the show from Casper, Wyo., one of the spots where the total eclipse is predicted to last the longest.

“It’s an artistic moment in some ways — it’s a moment that is extremely rare for a human to witness and it’s happening across our country,” Faherty said. “We’ve been talking about it for years in the astronomical community that 2017 was going to be huge. It’s hard to properly describe how magical standing in the shadow of the moon can be. It’s not surprising to me that people are feeling so excited and so inspired that we have the ability to participate in this.”

Burstein and his team have been busy for the past few months lining up interesting locations and human interest stories — such as a couple in Missouri who plan to take their wedding vows right at the moment when the total eclipse hits their area.

ABC News meteorologists Ginger Zee and Rob Marciano will be major contributors to the coverage, which will be anchored by “World News Tonight’s” David Muir from Charleston, S.C.

Burstein added that the effort to steer the broadcast and coordinate more than a dozen live remotes amounts to a scaled-down version of the feat that ABC News pulled off on Dec. 31, 1999, when the network broadcast live for 24 hours as the new millennium dawned around the world.

NASA is providing a pool feed to TV networks, but ABC News and other outlets have also scoped out their own locations. “I’ve been doing this too long to rely solely on someone else’s feed,” Burstein said.

He noted that ABC News will lean more heavily on the old-fashioned technology of satellite trucks than it has in the recent past because of the expectation that wireless and cellular signals will be overloaded in areas where large groups of eclipse-gazers congregate. “We might not even be able to get our cell phones working,” he said.

ABC News aims to build on its on-air coverage through its social platforms. On-air talent will make a big push to have viewers send in their own images and video of eclipse-related activities. “We want people to share what they’re seeing and we’ll put some of it on air,” Burstein said.

The timing of the Monday’s eclipse has been known to astronomy buffs for ages. But for the general public, the spectacle in the sky might be the kind of wondrous, collective event that might soothe the nerves of a nation riven with political and cultural discord — at least for a few minutes.

“It’s a chance for us to come together as a country,” said Burstein. “For two hours, you’re going to see people gathered together of different nationalities and colors and backgrounds.”

Faherty predicts many will be touched by the humbling experience of witnessing the majesty of the movements of the sun, moon, and Earth.

“The sky belongs to everybody,” she said. “It doesn’t matter where you’re from, it doesn’t matter your income or your race or your politics. Celestial events are for everybody. I think we will see people lose themselves in this moment.”

(Pictured: Fourth graders in Kansas City, Mo., practice using special sun-viewing glasses in preparation for Monday’s eclipse)

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