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Total Solar Eclipse of 2017

September 7, 2017

At PlanetRisk, we live, breathe and love all things data. So, we wanted to take a moment to share the huge data amounts on the Great American Eclipse of 2017. Even with all these interesting facts, this is only a fraction of the data actually collected.

The solar eclipse on August 21, 2017, was the first eclipse in 99 years with a path of totality from one US coast to another.  While solar eclipses occur about every 18 months, this eclipse was so popular in the U.S. because of the totality.  Hopefully you were able to participate in this event in some way: stepping out of the office, taking the kids out of school, perhaps even driving to another location.  If so, you joined millions of others thrilled to see the astrological even

NASA recorded nearly 27 million unique Facebook views before and after the eclipse and nasa.gov had more than 90 million page views.  More than 40 million people watched NASA’s live online broadcast.  This made the eclipse the largest government event since monitoring began in 2012, and NASA wasn’t the only option for those looking to view the eclipse from afar.  YouTube reported more than 100 million people watched livestreams and videos of the eclipse.  On Instagram, more than 50 million people had 160 million interactions related to the event – more than the 2017 Super Bowl.

While millions jumped online to watch and react, millions more stepped outdoors to see the eclipse for themselves.  While there were certainly ways to get creative with how to safely watch the eclipse, many people just ordered and wore official eclipse glasses.  American Paper Optics, the company producing most of the glasses, reported about 37 million glasses produced by July, with almost 500,000 shipping out every day.  SellerCloud, an integrated ecommerce management provider, collected data from sales by its users and reported the average retail price per pair was $7.15, and that number only increased.  As the eclipse grew closer and people rushed to find glasses, the spike in demand caused the price to increase nearly twentyfold.  SellerCloud recorded in late July a 10 pack of glasses was selling for about $8, but three days before the eclipse that price reached $159.

Many of the people buying glasses watched the event locally, but we know from location-based data service provider AirSage that travel did happen.  AirSage collects and analyzes real-time mobile signals, GPS and other location based data to produce and process billions of anonymous data points every day.  The company analyzed data patterns along the eclipse’s path to find out if there were large increases or decreases in the movement of people.  It used mobile and GPS device data and compared data from August 21 to the previous Monday, August 14.  Some locations, such as rural Idaho and Wyoming saw a more than 1000% device usage increase during the totality.  Comparatively, Kansas City and Nashville, already with a higher population density, saw a smaller increase of 100%-500%.

With so many people running outside for the event, some utility companies actually reported a decrease in power demand, the opposite of what was expected.  PJM Interconnection, which coordinates power among 13 states from Michigan to North Carolina, reported a net decrease for electricity of about 5,000 megawatts during the eclipse.  As for solar companies, they saw numbers dip due to the event.  Duke Energy spokesman Randy Wheeless said about 1700 megawatts of solar capacity was lost during the height of the eclipse.  Allison Torres, a spokeswoman for San Diego Gas and Electric, reported August 21 had a peak generation of 334 megawatts, rather than the usually seen 850 megawatts.

All that excitement did bring a chill to the air, with atmospheric scientists recording temperatures dropping as much as 11 degrees when the moon blocked out the sun.  The data collected during the event will be studied for years and then compared with data gathered during the next U.S. eclipse in 2024.  We hope you’re all somewhere with a fantastic view.