Are We All Gonna Die?

A Guide to August's Rare Total Solar Eclipse

Be ready: It's the first in the continental U.S. since 1979, and won't occur again until 2024.

By Allison Williams June 12, 2017 Published in the July 2017 issue of Seattle Met

There’s nothing more natural than eclipses, which were reported in ancient history and cited in the Bible (check Amos 8:9). One occurs every 18 months, somewhere on the planet. But they only happen in the same specific spot every four centuries or so, and for a long time they were…confusing. 

Some North American indigenous groups made noise to scare the sudden darkness away, while in Togo it was traditionally a time to resolve feuds, in hopes that the sun and the moon would make up. Public observatories have reported that in advance of eclipse events, they hear questions about whether the eclipse will hurt pregnant women or unborn children.

“You will understand why people sacrificed animals and people. It’s amazing to see a black hole in the sky,” says Tom Masterson at the Table Mountain Star Party. There’s scant evidence that the ancients of any continent went into a murderous frenzy during eclipses. Then again, this will be the first solar eclipse in the twenty-first century to take place along the I-5 corridor, which is already apocalyptic on a good day.

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Eclipse Dos and Don'ts

  • Don’t Assume you can drive into the path of totality a few hours before the event; the state of Oregon is expecting a million visitors within its borders, and even rural roads become clogged with drivers leading up to eclipses.
  • Do Travel somewhere likely to have a cloudless day, like Eastern Washington. The eclipse will still be spectacular in places where it’s only partial (like Seattle), but the skies must be clear to get a good show.
  • Don’t Try to photograph the eclipse if you’re a beginner and in the path of totality, advises star shutterbug and president of the Seattle Astronomical Society, Stephanie Anderson. “Totality is so brief, just go and experience it,” she says.
  • Don’t Look at the eclipse without proper eyewear. 
  • Do Use glasses or simply watch shadows of the eclipse projected through a hole in a box or piece of paper—no special shades required.
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