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These kids saw the last total solar eclipse in the U.S. This is how it changed them

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

We are now just one week away from a total solar eclipse. On April 8, the eclipse will be visible from parts of 13 states from Texas up to Maine. Some people say that seeing the sun disappear in a total eclipse is so unsettling and beautiful that the experience is unforgettable and transformative. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce decided to check in on some kids who saw the last total solar eclipse seven years ago, to see what they remember and whether it changed them.

NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: Kepler Colwell (ph) was 5 years old when he saw the total solar eclipse in 2017. He was in Knoxville, Tenn., in the yard outside his family's home.

KEPLER COLWELL: It was just me and my grandpa, nana, mom, dad, sister. I remember for, like, a whole minute or so it went completely dark.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Specifically, he remembers looking at his family's car and seeing its color suddenly change. It was a white car.

KEPLER: It just went from light to dark instantly. Everything was dark. It was really cool.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Jayden Davis (ph) also lives in Tennessee. He's 16 now. During the eclipse, he was in fifth grade and remembers wearing eclipse glasses to look at the slowly disappearing sun.

JAYDEN DAVIS: But I also remember hearing crickets. Like, when it got - like at its peak of, like, darkness, I heard crickets as well.

ODELIA KNISER: They recognized, I guess, it getting dark out, and they started making a whole bunch of noise. And that's definitely the most distinct memory I have from that day.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Odelia Kniser (ph) was also in fifth grade back then. Besides the nighttime insects, she remembers the screaming.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: (Screaming).

KALEY TRESS: I remember mostly everybody went crazy when it got dark.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: That's Kaley Tress (ph) She was in first grade at the time, watching the eclipse with a bunch of kids from her school. Her mom videotaped the moment.

KALEY: It was super cool to experience something like that. It feels unreal.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: I asked her if she thought it had changed her.

KALEY: I don't think it had any long-term effects, but it was definitely a really cool experience. And it's hard to explain with words.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: One high school senior describes it as a wake-up call. George Breiwa (ph) lives in Lodi, Wis. He remembers everything about his fifth-grade trip to see the eclipse.

GEORGE BREIWA: It's not something you see, you know, every day, obviously. So it just kind of brought the perspective of, like, you know, there's more out there than you see every day, every year, you know? So it just kind of broadened the horizons and perspectives on literally everything.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: So that's what young people say now. Fast-forward a few decades and what might they say then? They might be like Laura Pedacolas (ph). Her family went to see a total eclipse in Oregon in 1979. She was 9 years old.

LAURA PEDACOLAS: And I remember so vividly that trip. We drove out and camped. My parents had a VW bus. We had that all open. And my dad had music playing. Pink Floyd, "Dark Side Of The Moon" was playing.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: She has no memory of the actual moment when the sun turned into a black void, surrounded by a ghostly white ring. She thinks it was so freaky, her mind blanked it out.

PEDACOLAS: But I think subconsciously was like, no, that wasn't scary. That was super cool and strange. And I do know that after that, I really was starting to think about what exists in the universe that we can't see.

GREENFIELDBOYCE: Eventually, she became a physicist. She suspects that no matter what people consciously remember, a total eclipse can have a lasting impact. Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINY'S "ORANGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Nell Greenfieldboyce is a NPR science correspondent.