Eclipses in 2014: two lunar and two solar
Given clear skies, people in North and South America will get to see a full eclipse of the moon (lunar eclipse) on the night of April 14-15, 2014, when the earth’s shadow covers the entire surface of the full moon, turning it red – a “blood” moon. (See composite photo.) In addition, the red planet, Mars, will look like a fiery red star next to the red moon.
The diagram below shows what makes a lunar eclipse happen: the shadow of the earth covers the moon.
The second eclipse of 2014 is an annular (ring) eclipse of the
sun (solar eclipse), visible on April 29 to people in Australia, southern Indonesia, and the southern Indian Ocean. In this case the view of the sun is partially obscured by the moon, leaving a ring of sunlight visible. (See photo)
The third eclipse of 2014 is a partial eclipse of the moon, in which the earth’s shadow darkens only part of the moon. It will be visible on October 8, 2014 from locations in the Pacific Ocean including New Zealand, part of Australia, Hawaii, Japan, and easternmost Asia. (See photo.)
The fourth eclipse of 2014, on October 23, is a partial solar eclipse, visible from North America and Canada. Partial solar eclipses can vary from only a darkened slice as in the photo, to an almost full eclipse.
In addition, the two total lunar eclipses of 2014 will be followed by two more total lunar eclipses in 2015 (April 4 and September 28) without any partial eclipses between, a succession known as a Tetrad.
Eclipses – wonders or warnings
People who notice eclipses seem to find them a source of great wonder and delight or a fearsome warning of doom. Those who chase eclipses around the globe (A total solar eclipse happens somewhere on the earth every 18 months or so) describe the sensation of watching the sun or moon go dark as deeply emotional and thrilling. They find the experience so moving they seek it out over and over. One “shadow follower” said of his experience during the total eclipse: “You just felt different. Extraordinarily different.” E. C. Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California has seen thirteen total eclipses already. “They’re a chance to see the universe working,” Krupp says. “The solar system is doing its thing right before your eyes, and it’s a deep and personal pleasure.” The Griffith Observatory will be providing live streaming coverage for those who can’t catch the show in the sky. Look for it at http://www.griffith.obs.org, or follow the action at NASA’s site at www.nasa.org
Others see the darkening of the sun or moon as a bad omen. Some current articles about the four Blood Moons warn they are a sign of the second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of the world.
The appearance of a lunar eclipse on November 8, 1044 and an annular solar eclipse on November 22, 1044 inspired Shmuel Hanagid, a Hebrew poet in Spain, to write the poem “Two Eclipses,” in which he describes the ring of light around the darkened sun as:
“its halo of light on the darkness,
like a crown on the head of a Libyan princess,
and the earth whose sun has set,
reddened – as though with tears.”
The experience led him to wonder about the nature of God: “This is the work of the Lord who toys with creation.”
Like many ancient people and many today, Hanagid saw the eclipses as a demonstration of the power of a terrifying God.
Others saw the darkening of the sun or moon as the work of dark forces in the universe that were always present. To lessen their fears, they made up stories to explain an eclipse.
According to Norse legend, a giant sky wolf named Skoll chased the moon; his brother, named Hati, chased the sun. If either caught its prey, an eclipse resulted.
In Chinese myth, a dragon was trying to eat the moon. The Chinese word for eclipse, “shih,” means “to eat.” To frighten away the dragon, people shouted and beat drums.
In Vietnamese lore, a frog ate the moon during an eclipse. In Korean mythology, fire dogs constantly tried to steal the sun or the moon. When the fearsome dogs took a bite, an eclipse resulted.
The other common recourse was to turn to the wisest person in the village for an answer. Through incantations, herbs, sacrifice – whatever it took, this wise person would fight the forces of darkness. Then, when the eclipse passed and the sun or moon returned to its rightful place, the wise person’s prestige and power grew.
That power increased when a person could predict this horror – and appear to fight it off. Thus, knowledge of the eclipse schedule became very valuable. If the viewer knows the date of one solar eclipse, it’s possible to predict others. An eclipse period lasts 6,583 days, a little over 18 years. After this period, a practically identical eclipse series will occur. Armed with this information, a person could appear to have the power to control the events playing out in the heavens – to conquer chaos itself.
Christopher Columbus used this information to his advantage when his ship ran aground off Jamaica. The local Taino people fed him and his crew for months while the Spaniards tried to repair the ship, but after a while the locals grew tired of the endless provisioning. Knowing that a lunar eclipse would occur on February 29, 1504 from reading his charts, Columbus threatened to take away the moon if the locals didn’t keep feeding his crew. When the eclipse occurred, the natives were astounded and, of course, fed the great man who could control the light of the moon.
On the flip side, in China, Emperor Zhong Kang is said to have beheaded two astronomers who failed to correctly predict an eclipse 4000 years ago.
Dangers of an eclipse
Though widespread beliefs about the dangers of exposure to an eclipse still linger, especially regarding pregnant women, the only real danger is looking at the sun during a solar eclipse – or any other time!
The other danger is the propaganda distributed by some groups that use the appearance of the eclipse as a way to foment hate toward a certain group. One Blood Moon site I visited posted a graph showing the eclipses, the death of Comet ISON (which it called a Jewish comet), and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant in Japan, then noted that two of the eclipses fell on Jewish holidays in 2014 and two in 2015. It’s hard to tell what the reasoning behind this list might be, but it’s a shame that anyone would take something as truly awesome as an eclipse and make it a weapon of hate.
I agree with E. C. Krupp: viewing an eclipse is an amazing opportunity to see our universe display its awesome power. Enjoy.
Sources and interesting reading:
Dickson, David, “Get ready for the April 15, 2014 total lunar eclipse: Our Complete Guide” Universe Today, 2 April, 2014
Espenak, Fred, “Eclipses During 2014,” NASA, http://eclipse.nasa.gov
Espenak, Fred, “Lunar Eclipses for Beginners,” MrEclipse.com, 2007 http://www.mrecelipse.com/Special/LEprimer.html
Griffith Observatory on-line at www.griffithobs.org
HaNagid, Shmuel, “Two Eclipses,” World Literature, Donna Rosenberg, ed. New York: McGraw Hill/Glencoe, 2004
Lee, Jane. “Solar Eclipse Myths from around the World” National Geographic Daily News, 1 November 2013m http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/11/131101
Mercer, Brandon, “Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse Visible April 14-15 Beginning Rare Series of Total Eclipses” CBS News 4 April 2014 http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2014/04/04
Muller, Natalie, “Fear of eclipse widespread in Aboriginal culture,” Australian Geographic, 14 June 2011 http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/news/2011/06/fear-of-eclipse…
Ruggles, Clive and Gary Urton (editors). Skywatcing in the Ancient World: New Perspectives in Cultural Astronomy, University Press of Colorado, 2007
“Solar eclipse” Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_eclipse
Weise, Elizabeth, “Blood moon eclipse on April 15 is a special event,” USA Today, 3 April 2014 http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/2014/04/03
Partial solar eclipse: www.thevenustransit.com
Lunar eclipse stages: “Eclipse,” Wikipedia
Partial lunar eclipse: www.timeanddate.com
Lunar eclipse diagram: University of Maryland Department of Astronomy: Intorductory Astronomy: Eclipses, www.astro.umd.edu
Eclipse watchers in India: http://www.Boston.com
Christopher Columbus and the eclipse of February 29, 1504, from the book Romance of Spanish History by John S.C. Abbott