What Are “Blood Moons”? Is the World Ending?
There has been a lot of interest recently in an upcoming series of lunar eclipses that begins April 15. These are usually described as “four blood moons” and taken by some to prophesy upcoming disasters.
The total lunar eclipse of April 14-15 will begin a so-called tetrad series of eclipses that is making the rounds online as a potential harbinger of doom, due in part to a recent book on the four blood moons that makes the dubious claim.
Astronomers rarely, if ever, use the term “Blood Moon.” When they do, they are usually using it as an alternate name for the Hunter’s Moon, the full moon that follows the Harvest Moon, usually in late October. The Hunter’s Moon, like the Harvest Moon, rises slowly on autumn evenings so that it shines through a thick layer of the Earth’s atmosphere, and is colored red by what those who study the atmosphere call Raleigh scattering as well as smog and air pollution.
On rare occasions, the light reaching the moon resembles the color of blood, but there is no way of predicting this in advance. So there are no grounds to call any particular lunar eclipse a blood moon until it actually shows its color.
What is unusual about this month’s lunar eclipse is that it is the first of a series of four total lunar eclipses in a row. Called a “tetrad,” such a series of four total eclipses in a row is not an overly rare event. The last such series happened in the years 2003 and 2004, and it will occur seven more times in the current century.
So while a tetrad of total lunar eclipses is somewhat unusual, it is not extraordinarily so, and certainly nothing to make a fuss about. After all, the only thing that happens during a lunar eclipse is that the moon spends a couple of hours passing through the Earth’s shadow, hardly something to be concerned about.
While we now have a clear understanding of much of what’s going on in the sky, people once routinely believed that astronomical events such as eclipses and comets were harbingers of disaster and doom.
A colleague of mine, Geoff Gaherty at SPACE.com recently cited a book which incredibly has made The New York Times best seller list: “Four Blood Moons: Something is About to Change” (Worthy Publishing 2013) penned by John Hagee, which suggests a link between the four total lunar eclipses that will occur over the next two years and the prophecy in the Bible about the end of the world.
“When the mechanisms behind eclipses were less well understood, they were thought to be omens of bad tidings, just as comets were. Now people know that these are just normal events in the clockwork of the solar system, things which have occurred regularly for thousands of years and which will occur for thousands of years into the future.”
“Associations between ‘disastrous’ events and normal astronomical events are all fabrications of the human mind, as people attempt to find explanations for why disasters affect them. Because of the Internet and cable news channels, people now hear reports of disasters from around the world, including earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions, which they never would have been aware of in the past.”
So, my advice to all of you who are blessed with clear skies on eclipse night is, don’t sweat it! This is a beautiful, natural and predictable phenomenon for all of us to see and enjoy. And since we like making predictions here at the Farmers’ Almanac, I’ll go out on a limb and state that, after the final lunar eclipse of this foursome passes into history in September 2015, we all will still be here.