Earth To Dance With Moon
- Jay Ryan Contributing Writer
- 2004 26 Oct
An eclipse of the Moon occurs when the Full Moon enters the shadow of the Earth. But this only happens during certain Full Moons. Most months, the Full Moon lies a little higher or lower than the Earth as compared to the Sun. So normally, the Sun's light shines fully onto the Moon's surface. But once in a while, the Full Moon lines up directly with the Earth and the Sun, and the Moon passes through the Earth's shadow. The Earth blocks the Sun's rays from falling on the Moon's surface, and the Moon grows dark for a time. This is a "Lunar Eclipse."
Safely Viewing an Eclipse
Contrary to some reports, it is completely safe to view a lunar eclipse with the unaided eye. The only danger from eclipse watching is in staring at an eclipse of the Sun. Special glasses are sold to allow an observer to safely look at the Sun's bright face. However, a lunar eclipse is simply a darkening of the face of the Moon. So viewing a lunar eclipse is even less dangerous than looking at the Full Moon (that is, not dangerous at all!)
This Week's Eclipse
In the Americas, this week's total eclipse of the Moon will begin in the evening of Wednesday, October 27. The eclipse begins when the Moon first enters the Earth's "penumbra," that is, the partial shadow of Earth. If you could be on the Moon looking at the Earth, the Sun would appear to be partially blocked by the Earth during the penumbral stage. As a result, the Moon will appear less bright in the sky, and may take on a yellowish color.
The Moon enters the Earth's penumbra at 0:05 Universal Time, which currently corresponds to 1:05 AM Greenwich Daylight Time. Observers in Europe and Africa will see the eclipse begin after Midnight, in their local time zones. In North America, the penumbral eclipse begins at 8:05 PM in the Eastern Time Zone of the USA, and 5:05 PM on the West Coast.
At 9:14 PM Eastern Time (2:14 AM Greenwich Time), the Moon will begin to the enter the Earth's "umbra," which is the full shadow of the Earth. The umbra is seen on the Moon's surface as the curved, dark edge of the Earth's shadow on the surface of the Moon. This is the stage of "partial eclipse." The partial eclipse stage will begin at 6:14 Pacific Time. So folks from California to British Columbia will see the Moon rising during eclipse, and will enjoy the entire event during the early evening.
As the umbral stage progresses, the dark edge of the Earth's shadow will grow larger over the Moon's surface. The Moon enters "total eclipse" when the Earth's shadow covers the entire surface of the Moon. Totality begins at 10:23 PM Eastern Time, or 7:23 PM on the West Coast. If anyone in Europe or Africa has insomnia, they can see totality begin at 3:23 AM Greenwich Time.
For this eclipse, totality is quite long, lasting one hour and 21 minutes. So everyone in Alaska and Hawaii should be able to see at least a portion of the total stage. Totality will end at 3:44 UT, which is 11:44 PM Eastern Time and 8:44 PM Pacific Time. Afterwards, the eclipse again enters the partial stage as the Earth's shadow withdraws for another hour and twelve minutes.
Lunar Eclipse -- The Sixth Seal?
During totality, it's not uncommon to see the Moon's face shine with a dull, rusty-colored light. This is the result of red sunlight, filtered through the Earth's atmosphere, and shining on the Moon's surface. If you could be on the Moon during a total eclipse, the Earth would appear as a dark circle blocking the Sun, surrounded by the bright red-orange ring of the Earth's atmosphere.
Often, this rusty color can be a deep red, not unlike the color of blood. For this reason, every time we have a lunar eclipse, there are always some who proclaim it as "a sign of the End Times." Scripture mentions similar occurrences in the Moon:
"The Sun shall be turned into darkness, and the Moon into blood, before that great and notable day of the Lord come." -- Joel 2:31, Acts 2:20
"And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and lo, there was a great earthquake, and the Sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the Moon became as blood." -- Revelation 6:12
However, I would caution everyone against interpreting these passages to mean a simple lunar eclipse. The fact is, lunar eclipses are very common, more so even than "wars and rumors of wars." There are usually two or three lunar eclipses each year. So a typical eclipse of the Moon is not a very rare or notable event in the scheme of human history.
Also, the causes and mechanics of eclipses were well understood in New Testament times. We've speculated in previous Updates that the education of the Apostle Paul might have included Classical Astronomy. So it's not unlikely that Paul and other Christians in New Testament times would have understood that a lunar eclipse is a predictable natural event, not a supernatural one.
Instead, perhaps the bloody color of the Moon foretold in Scripture refers to a supernatural event. These verses also speak of a darkening of the Sun. This only happens naturally during a total eclipse of the Sun. But a solar eclipse cannot happen at the same time as a lunar eclipse, since these events both involve the Moon, and can only occur at least two weeks apart, when the Moon is in opposite sides of the sky.
Also, a solar or lunar eclipse can only be seen in small areas of the Earth. No single eclipse is visible from everywhere in the world. Also, eclipses are short in duration. Solar eclipses last only a few minutes, while lunar eclipses last for less than two hours. Surely events signaling the climax of human history should be longer in duration, and visible to everyone in the world, so that every eye could see the fulfillment of prophecy.
For these reasons, I believe the opening of the Sixth Seal points to a non-astronomical event, where the Sun is darkened at the same time as the Moon turns to the color of blood. The Bible speaks of other miracles of the sky, such as the Star of Bethlehem and the darkness that occurred during the Crucifixion of Jesus. But these miracles are also not easily explained by astronomical science.
Many scientific theories have been proposed for the Star of Bethlehem. But there are a million of these theories, and they always seem to neglect either a point of Scripture or a point of science. And it has often been suggested that darkness on Calvary was due to a solar eclipse. But this darkness lasted for three hours, much longer than any natural eclipse. And the Crucifixion occurred during Passover, which lands on the Full Moon, the opposite phase for a solar eclipse!
Attempts to discover scientific rationalizations for the miraculous always require a "faith" in naturalistic explanations that advance neither science nor faith. We Christians might do better to simply trust what God wrote in His Word and not make hasty efforts to harmonize Scripture with human reason.
Jay Ryan is the author of "The Classical Astronomy Update," a free e-mail newsletter for helping Christian homeschool families learn more about events in the starry sky. If you would like to receive the Update, please drop Jay an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. Visit the Classical Astronomy web site - www.ClassicalAstronomy.com