Apocalypse now! How much do you know about 2017's total solar eclipse?

John Miller

True or false, will the 2017 total solar eclipse happen on August 21, 2017?

It's true, the August 21 eclipse will consume the attention of many millions of people on this late summer day. It's one of the most-hyped astronomical events in a very long time.

Some lucky places will see a 100 percent total solar eclipse. Is that area called the Path of the Apocalypse?

The complete solar eclipse will only occur along a thin path -- the path of totality. Hotels and campgrounds along the path of totality expect booming numbers of visitors during the eclipse.

True or false, will the 2017 eclipse first be visible in Iowa?

False, in relationship to America, the first state to witness the eclipse is Oregon. Then, the eclipse will steadily move east, across the midsection of the country.

People inside the path of totality will see a total solar eclipse. Will people outside the path of totality be consumed by fire-breathing dragons spawned by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

Well, there are no guarantees in this life, but dragons seem like a remote threat during an eclipse. People outside the path of totality will see a partial solar eclipse -- it won't be quite as impressive, but it's still a noteworthy event.

True or false, was the last total solar eclipse (in the U.S.) in 1776, the same year that American declared its independence from Britain?

The last total solar eclipse in the continental U.S. occurred about four decades ago, in 1979. Since then, astronomers have been eagerly awaiting another total eclipse.

True or false, will the weather affect eclipse watching opportunities?

It's the biggest fear of astronomers who are gearing up for the big day -- that North America will be encased in clouds when the eclipse occurs. Some places along the path of totality often see significant cloud cover in August, so viewing could be impeded.

True or false, because this is a total solar eclipse, is it safe to look at with the naked eye?

It is safe to look at the solar eclipse with the naked eye but -- and this is a major, major but -- only when the sun is 100 percent obscured by the moon, which is only for a few moments. Before or after that sliver of time, it's NOT safe to look at the eclipse, and doing so can permanently damage your eyes.

True or false, if you damage your eyes looking at the solar eclipse, will you immediately know it?

No, the symptoms of eye damage don't manifest themselves right away. But hours later, you may begin to notice problems with your eyes -- and there's nothing you can do to repair the damage to your retinas. Take precautions to protect your eyes.

True or false, do animals start acting weird during a total solar eclipse?

It's true, animals are very sensitive to astronomical cues, and the eclipse is no different. Some creatures exhibit bizarre behaviors as they try to make sense of the sudden darkness. Rabbits may steal human babies, and turtles may attack cars. Who knows?

True or false, in terms of cloud cover, are the coasts of America the best place to be during the eclipse?

In August, both the East and West coasts often exhibit at least a little cloud cover. The Midwest, such as Nebraska, is a place that typically has very little cloud cover in August.

True or false, is it safe to look at the solar eclipse using one or two pairs of high-quality sunglasses?

No! Sunglasses are not appropriate tools for eclipse viewing. You can buy a pair of eclipse-worthy glasses for less than 15 bucks. It's a cheap way to preserve one of your most vital senses. Don't blind yourself for a silly eclipse, it's not worth it.

True or false, do eclipses basically happen with every new moon?

Eclipses are rare. Total solar eclipses like this one happen only when the moon's orbit crosses the ecliptic plane at either an ascending or descending orbital node.

True or false, do total solar eclipses happen on Earth about every 18 months or so?

It's true, on average, a total solar eclipse happens somewhere on Earth every year and a half or so. So the continental U.S. is long overdue for a big show.

True or false, is the path of totality about 700 miles wide?

Sadly, the path of totality is only about 70 miles wide. That means most people will have to travel -- perhaps a long way -- in order to experience a total solar eclipse.

True or false, is the solar eclipse caused by the planet Mercury moving between Earth and sun?

It's not Mercury that causes solar eclipses. It's the moon. And the moon rarely aligns in such a way that it blocks out the sun entirely.

True or false, along the path of totality, will the total solar eclipse last for around 15 seconds?

In the center of the path of totality, viewers are in for a long-lasting treat. The eclipse will reach its climax for about 2 minutes and 40 seconds. That's more than enough time to listen to Pink Floyd's "Eclipse," from the album "The Dark Side of the Moon." The song is 2 minutes and 3 seconds long.

True or false, when the sun is COMPLETELY covered by the moon, is it safe to look at the eclipse with optical aids like binoculars?

Yes, when the sun is 100 percent obscured by the moon, you can watch the eclipse with viewing aids. You may be able to pick out spectacular details, such as amazing hues and features in the solar corona.

True or false, if you don't want to buy eclipse-viewing glasses, can you make an eclipse-watching device at home?

You don't have to spend money on eclipse glasses if you don't want to. Instead, you can make a pinhole camera with household items. They are very easy to make in just minutes and you'll find instructions for making them online.

True or false, should you consider traveling to your eclipse-watching spot long before the eclipse begins?

Government officials warn that tens of millions of people will be on the move during the eclipse, all hoping to catch the best view of the amazing event. Some areas declared states of emergency weeks before the eclipse as officials worry about gridlock and overloaded public facilities

True or false, will only one major American city have a great view of the August 2017 eclipse?

Along the path of totality, there's only one major American city, and it's Nashville. So if the eclipse causes the Earth's crust to shatter, unleashing the hounds of hell, the catastrophe is likely to begin in Tennessee.

True or false, in the path of totality, will it be as dark as midnight?

No, even at the peak of the eclipse, it won't anything like true darkness. It will look like the onset of night, though.

True or false, given the relative size of the sun and moon, is the 2017 eclipse roughly the longest total solar eclipse that's physically possible?

At a maximum of about 2 minutes and 40 seconds, the 2017 eclipse is far from the longest possible version of a solar eclipse. The longest possible is about 7 and a half minutes, and that one won't happen until 2132.

True or false, will people outside the path of totality get much of the same experience as the people within the path?

Experts say it's like comparing apples to oranges. Witnessing a total solar eclipse is much more spectacular than a partial eclipse, even a partial eclipse that covers 98 percent of the sun.

True or false, will the path of totality (for the 2017 eclipse) cross 39 American states?

Nope, the center of the path will cross just 12 states. Places like southeast Nebraska will be ground zero for the darkest and longest-lasting part of the total eclipse.

True or false, will people in the path of totality witness what's called an "umbra"?

The umbra is the moon's shadow. And if you're in the path of totality, you'll be basking in the umbra. Embrace the experience -- it's a rare one indeed.

True or false, will Portland, Oregon be the first West Coast city to witness the 100% solar eclipse?

Sorry Portlanders, close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Portland will be a witness to a 99% eclipse.

True or false, will North Americans who miss this eclipse have to wait another 40 years for an opportunity to see a similar event?

After a 40-year wait, North Americans are fortunate. They'll have to wait until just 2024 for another shot at an eclipse. That one will take place in the area of southern Texas.

True or false, if you happen to miss the 2017 and 2024 eclipses, will you have to wait 480 more years for another chance?

Do your best to witness both eclipses, just in case, you know, it's cloudy. But that won't happen, right? Right! If you do miss both of them, you'll have to wait two decades -- August 23, 2044.

True or false, to really get the most awe-inspiring view of the eclipse, must you view the event without glasses?

If you're lucky enough to be in the path of totality, then yes, viewing the eclipse without glasses is absolutely something you should do. You'll see details of heavenly bodies that you've never seen before ... and may never see again. But again, heed our previous warnings about doing this the right way.

True or false, will everyone in the United States be a witness to at least a partial eclipse?

The August 2017 eclipse will indeed cause at least a partial eclipse throughout all of America. Unless, of course, you have the misfortune of a cloudy day.

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About This Quiz

The 2017 total solar eclipse is one of the most significant astronomy events in decades. Countless humans will witness this spectacular phenomenon. How much do you know about the coming eclipse?

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