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A Brief History of Solar Eclipses, From 1900 to 2017 (Gallery)

Longest view

Zou Fei/ChinaFotoPress/Zuma

Astronomy enthusiasts from around the world, including these German viewers, traveled to China to see an exceptionally long total solar eclipse — it lasted a maximum of 6 minutes and 39 seconds in certain locations on the coast of Southeast Asia. The eclipse could be seen along a path through India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and China.

Livestream prep

Mark Kolbe/Getty

Computers and telescopes were set up the night before a NASA livestream of the total solar eclipse in November 2012 from Cairns, Australia — the first in Australia in a decade.

Glow down below

Ian Hitchock/Getty

The total solar eclipse in November 2012 captured from Palm Cove, Australia.

Lights, Camera

Philipp Guelland/Getty Images

A camera crew prepared to film the March 2015 partial solar eclipse in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, where the moon covered about 75 percent of the sun over central Europe.

Dark disk

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty

A photographer captured this image as the sun and moon approached a total solar eclipse in March 2016 from Palembang City, South Sumatra province, Indonesia.

Hello, eclipse

Ulet Ifansasti/Getty Images

A girl watched the onset of the March 2016 total solar eclipse in Palembang City, Indonesia.

This year

Williams College Eclipse Expedition - Jay M. Pasachoff, Muzhou Lu and Craig Malamut; SOHO's LASCO image courtesy of NASA/ESA; solar disk image from NASA's SDO; compositing by Steele Hill, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

Throughout history, scientists have used solar eclipses to answer some of the biggest questions about our world, from the basic elements that make it up to the nature of space and time itself. This year, researchers are turning a long list of instruments skyward to glean as much as they can from the darkened sky and sun's ghostly corona. And with researchers predicting the upcoming eclipse will be the most watched of all time, the public will also contribute valuable documentation and data to the scientific effort.

Email Sarah Lewin at slewin@space.com or follow her @SarahExplains. Follow us @SpacedotcomFacebook and Google+.

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