Blood moons coincide with holy days
Weather permitting, New Zealanders will have a great chance to see a total lunar eclipse next week but the event is the start of an unusual sequence some doomsayers say spells trouble.
To start with, the eclipse is the start of a tetrad of blood moons - four successive total lunar eclipses, with no partial lunar eclipses in-between and six full moons between each eclipse.
The description blood moon can apply to lunar eclipses in general, as the light bouncing off the Moon is refracted through the Earth's atmosphere, producing a coppery hue.
It's not the tetrad on its own that is causing the excitement, while astronomers shake their heads in frustration.
This particular tetrad happens to coincide with the Jewish festivals of Passover and Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.
American pastor John Hagee has been responsible for whipping up much of the apocalyptic enthusiasm for the coming tetrad with his bestseller Four Blood Moons: Something Is About to Change.
Hagee has been quoted saying the tetrad signified God was up to something significant concerning Israel. He did not know what that might be, but was prepared to say: "The anticipation of these events does tell us that God is getting ready to change the course of human history."
A biblical verse from Revelations is also being quoted to boost the case that something is up: "I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair the whole Moon turned blood red."
According to Wikipedia, tetrads coincided with Passover and Sukkot only eight times between the first century and 2100. In that time there were 62 tetrads.
In an article at Universe Today debunking the doom theories, David Dickinson pointed out there will be eight tetrads this century, although that is the maximum number possible for any century between 1999BC and AD3000. Many centuries have none.
Passover was always marked by a full moon, and by definition lunar eclipses always coincided with a full moon, Dickinson said.
"Eclipses happen, and sometimes they occur on Passover. It's rare that they pop up on tetrad cycles, yes, but it's at best a mathematical curiosity that is a result of our attempt to keep our various calendrical systems in sync with the heavens."
The eclipses in the upcoming tetrad coincide with the full moon marking Passover on April 15, 2014, and April 4, 2015, and the Jewish observance of Sukkot on October 8, 2014, and September 28, 2015.
Tuesday's eclipse would be special because it would start soon after the sunset, Auckland's Stardome Observatory and Planetarium said.
From 6pm the Moon would start to move into the Earth's shadow and be completely within the shadow by 7.08pm. Maximum eclipse would be at 7.46pm and totality would end at 8.23pm.
"It will also be special because the eclipsed Moon will be close to Mars and the bright star Spica in Virgo. And Mars will be very bright because it has just passed opposition and will be at its closest to Earth until May 2016," Stardome said.
The next total lunar eclipse would be overnight on October 8/9, with mid-eclipse at 11.55pm. The eclipse on April 4, 2015, would also be visible from this country, but that of September 28, 2015, would not be.