The upcoming solar eclipse is poised to become the “most photographed, most shared, most tweeted event in human history,” in the words of one astronomer. Millions of people will watch it, potentially overwhelming the cities and towns along the eclipse's path of totality.
According to Google, interest in the eclipse has exploded nationwide in the past few months, mirroring national media attention. The county-level search data above, provided by Google, paints a striking picture: Interest in the eclipse is concentrated in the path of totality that cuts through the middle of the country, receding sharply the farther you go from that path.
The searches are an uncanny virtual reflection of the eclipse itself. Experts say the difference between a total eclipse (viewable only in the path of totality) and a partial one (everywhere else) is quite literally the difference between night and day. Web users in counties within the path of the totality are looking up information on the eclipse five to 10 times more often than those well outside, according to Google's data.
In the past week, interest was highest in rural Clark County, Idaho, which lies directly in the eclipse's path. Nearby Idaho Falls plans to hold a four-day outdoor country music festival it's calling Moonfest.
Nebraska's Pawnee and Banner counties, situated at opposite ends of the state, show the next-highest amount of interest. Banner county lies just outside the path of totality, while Pawnee is directly within it.
Rounding out the top five counties are Rabun and Towns counties in northeast Georgia, both squarely within the eclipse's path.
In the past week, people searching the Web for the event are mostly looking up basic facts — a map of the eclipse's path, its exact time and information on the special glasses you'll need to avoid burning your eyeballs while looking at it.
The physical world asserts itself in our virtual lives in myriad ways. Searches for seasonal affective disorder follow a north-south gradient, for instance, and you can use Google searches to track everything from flu season to mosquito hatchings.
The eclipse searches are perhaps the most striking example of this phenomenon yet, as millions of Americans along an invisible celestial path tap their keyboards together, unknown to one another.