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People say 'wow' as solar eclipse elicits awe across US

As the sun's bright rays slowly dimmed, Rick Rashman shared the view through his solar telescope.

He could tell when fellow eclipse enthusiasts' eyes met the image through his sophisticated instrument, which he set up in Marion, Illinois, hours ahead of the moon-and-sun pas de deux on Monday.

"People just say 'wow,'" said Rashman, an amateur astronomer from the Chicago area. "You can tell when people see it."

Rashman was among hundreds of people who gathered in Marion, a town about 100 kilometres south-east of St Louis, Missouri, to witness the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse in the United States in 99 years.

Marion was one of many places to mark eclipse with a special event geared toward families, including educational programmes, music and other entertainment for stargazers.

Rick Huber travelled nearly five hours by car from his hometown near Joliet, outside Chicago, to experience the eclipse with his wife, 13-year-old son and an exchange student who arrived in the US two weeks ago.

"It is just a rare opportunity to see the eclipse," Huber said. "We wanted to come down to get the best possible percentage of totality that we could. And this was the closest to it."

Their son Brayden and the 16-year-old exchange student, Bruno, from Guangdong, China, said it was amazing.

"When it was dark everyone was screaming," Bruno said, describing the scene at the venue, a minor league baseball stadium. "When it started to get bright again everyone was screaming again."

He said he would be sending images to friends back in China. "They will say, 'Wow, amazing!'"

Marion was near the so-called path of totality, a 100-kilometre-wide band stretching across 14 states. People in that relatively narrow zone could see the moon gradually slide over the sun, leaving a glowing ring of light.

The astronomical event, first seen in the US in Oregon, was the first total solar eclipse visible in the country since 1979 and the first coast-to-coast solar eclipse across North America since 1918.

NASA estimated ahead of the eclipse that millions of people would view it, especially along the path of totality.

Among the people watching from Washington were President Donald Trump and his family. Dressed in a suit and tie, Trump gestured to a crowd below the White House's south-facing balcony and pointed at the sky. He then put on special viewing glasses and gazed up at the show along with first lady Melania Trump and their son, Barron.

One of Trump's other children, Ivanka, also watched from the balcony.

In Oregon, transportation officials were frustrated by cars parked on the side of the north-western US state's highways by people watching the astronomical show.

The Oregon Department of Transportation pointed to photos of cars lining the side of a highway near Peter Skene Ogden State Park, about 219 kilometres south-east of Portland. Public parks were among the most popular places for viewing the eclipse.

Many schools in and near the path of totality let students go outside to watch the event after donning special glasses to protect their eyes.

In Los Angeles, only children who had glasses were allowed to experience it through their own eyes. The Los Angeles Unified School District otherwise kept students inside over concern that their eyes could be damaged, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The total solar eclipse ended in the country in the south-eastern US state of South Carolina just before 3 pm (1900 GMT), with some people already looking forward

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