Photo: NASA TV

Crowds gathered across parts of Chile and Argentina to see a rare total solar eclipse on Tuesday.

Details: While most of the continent will be able to see at least a partial eclipse, only a relatively small swath of South America will be able to observe totality — when the Moon fully blocks the light of the Sun, dimming daylight and bathing the planet in darkness.

  • Generally, total solar eclipses occur every 12–18 months, but any one location experiences totality on average every 360 years, per the European Southern Observatory.
  • The last total solar eclipse was in August 2017.

What's happening: AP reported early Tuesday that more than 300,000 tourists had collected in La Serena, Chile, to catch a glimpse of the eclipse — the first city in South America to experience totality, at 4:38pm ET.

  • The path of the eclipse will trace a 90-mile-wide stretch of land, from La Serena to Chascomús, Argentina, south of Buenos Aires.
  • Thereafter, the eclipse will move toward the Atlantic Ocean and come to a close as the sun sets at 4:50pm.

Outside the path of totality, many will be able to see a partial eclipse throughout the rest of Chile and Argentina, along with Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru and Uruguay, and in other parts of South America.

Why it matters: According to NASA, "Studying the Sun during total solar eclipses helps scientists understand the source and behavior of solar radiation that drives space weather near Earth, which can affect the health of astronauts in space and the durability of materials used to build spacecraft."

Go deeper: The next solar eclipse

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