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Space + FlightSpace & Flight

Big Idea of 2017: Sun, Moon, and Spacecraft

ByAllison EckNOVA NextNOVA Next

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The country might be divided, but two space events this year brought Americans together in unprecedented numbers.

August’s total solar eclipse attracted 215 million awe-filled eyes, according to a study by the University of Michigan. The eclipse was the first in 99 years to traverse the contiguous United States coast-to-coast. It was the first to light up social media, too, sending thousands of people piling into the path of totality to witness this once-in-a-lifetime event. Fervid eclipse-watchers packed into hotels and flocked to streets, balconies, and open fields from Newport, Oregon to Nashville, Tennessee to watch this celestial spectacle.

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More than 215 million people watched the 2017 total solar eclipse.

In case you couldn’t make it to the path of totality, NOVA covered some of the highlights of the event —and produced our very own Facebook Live from the heart of eclipse’s path, featuring journalist Miles O’Brien and astrophysicist Jason Kalirai. It was an amazing experience:

Relive Our Live Eclipse Experience

Another event, this time even more rare, captivated Earthbound on-lookers: the Cassini spacecraft “death dive.” In April, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft began its Grand Finale descent into Saturn. As it plunged, it collected information about Saturn’s gravitational and magnetic fields, the composition of its upper atmosphere, the weight and age of its rings, the depth of its metallic hydrogen core, and more. Then in September, the spacecraft—launched two decades ago— crashed into Saturn , sending data back even in the milliseconds before its demise.

Here’s a primer on Cassini ‘s contribution to the search for life beyond Earth: