An eclipse happens when one celestial body, such as the moon or a planet, moves into the shadow of another celestial body.
On Earth, we have two types of eclipses: the eclipse of the moon called a lunar eclipse and the eclipse of the sun called a solar eclipse.
The reason that we see the moon so brightly is because the sun is shining on it and reflecting the light.
In the case of a lunar eclipse, the orbit of the Earth places it between the sun and the moon, blocking the sunlight that we usually see reflected by the moon.
During a lunar eclipse the sun’s light doesn’t hit it, and instead the shadow of the Earth falls on it.
A lunar eclipse only happens during a full moon and, unlike a solar eclipse that lasts only minutes, a lunar eclipse can last for a few hours. It’s also safe to view a lunar eclipse without damaging your eyes.
Achieving a complete or total eclipse is a combination of a number of very exacting circumstances that involve both size and distance.
On Earth we are incredibly lucky because the distance between the Earth and the moon, combined with the size of the moon allows us to have a perfect total eclipse.
This wouldn’t happen if the moon was smaller or larger or even at a farther or closer distance.
Two Types of Lunar Eclipses:
There are two types of lunar eclipses and they are observed on the Earth at night: a total lunar eclipse and a partial lunar eclipse. Every year there are at least two partial lunar eclipses, but a total lunar eclipse is rare.
Total lunar eclipse: this type of eclipse happens when the sun and the moon are positioned on direct opposite sides of the Earth. Even though the Earth’s shadow is covering the moon, a small bit of the sun’s light does hit the moon.
This happens when the light is passing through the atmosphere on Earth and filters out most of the light that is blue and leaving the red color.
When viewed from Earth, the moon then has a reddish color. Some people throughout history have called this a “blood moon.”
Partial lunar eclipse: this type of eclipse occurs when only a portion of the moon is shadowed by the Earth. The partial eclipse makes the shadow caused by the Earth look dark on the moon side that is facing the Earth.
The view of this eclipse is dependent upon where the sun, moon, and Earth are aligned.
Historic Reactions to Total Lunar Eclipses:
For thousands of years, many of our ancestors looked at the reddish color of the moon during a total lunar eclipse with fear and dread.
They felt that the color of the moon represented an evil omen or that their gods had lost favor with them. Using the term “blood moon” replaces science with superstition.
The ancient Incas thought that the red color of the moon was a jaguar that had attacked and eaten the moon. They were fearful that the jaguar would then attack Earth, so to frighten the jaguar off the people would yell and shout, make their dogs howl and bark, and shake their spears at the moon.
The ancient Mesopotamians thought that the lunar eclipse was a direct attack on their kind.
They had astronomers that could predict the lunar eclipses and during that time they would substitute a fake king to replace the real one, in case anything should happen.
Some stories from the Hindus said that the lunar eclipse was the result of a demon named Rahu had consumed an elixir of immortality.
The twin gods of the moon and the sun would behead Rahu, however, due to the elixir his head would be immoral and would chase the moon and the sun in revenge.
The eclipse occurred when he caught them and Rahu would eat the moon.The people of India believe that the lunar eclipse brought bad luck.
They covered all water and food and performed extensive cleansing rituals. Any women that were pregnant couldn’t go outside, eat, or do any housework as ways to protect their unborn babies.
Native American tribes in California called the Hupa and Luiseño thought that the total lunar eclipse was a sign that the moon was hurt or sick.
They believed that after the eclipse had passed that the moon would require healing and rituals were performed by tribesmen.
The Luiseño would also chant and sing songs to the dark moon that were designed to heal.
The Batammaliba people of Benin and Togo in Africa share their belief that the lunar eclipse is actually an argument between the moon and the sun and the people are required to encourage them to resolve their conflict.
It is during this time that people forgive old feuds and arguments.The cultures of Islam don’t seem to have any superstitions about the eclipses.
In their religion, both moon and sun represent a respect for Allah, and so they have special chants and prayers during an eclipse.
Christianity has historically associated a total lunar eclipse with God’s anger and associate it with Jesus’ crucifixion.
The 2011 Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter gathered data about a lunar eclipse. The purpose of the mission was to study the side of the moon that faces the Earth and to find out how quickly this side of the moon cools down during a lunar eclipse.
The research results offer insight into the composition of the moon’s surface as well as whether flat areas cool more quickly. The information is also used to identify moon areas that have boulders versus flat areas.
Lunar eclipses occur more than you think. The 21st century will see 85 total lunar eclipses, which means that people can view around one eclipse every 2.3 years.
The region of visibility for a total lunar eclipse allows billions of people to see it as it extends over half of the Earth.
The temperature drops drastically when the shadow of the Earth goes over the lunar landscape during a total lunar eclipse. This causes a condition on the moon that is called a “thermal shock wave.”
The condition may create a situation where gases on the lunar surface escape due to crumbling lunar rocks.
When the sun normally sets, the temperature drops at a gradual rate, however when the sun is suddenly shit off during the time when it has high heat being sent to the lunar surface, the drop occurs in just 10-30 minutes.
In 1971, two of the Apollo landing sites monitored temperatures during a total lunar eclipse. The Apollo 12 site was on the Ocean of Storms and the temperature went from 168.3 degrees F/75.7 degrees C down to -153 degrees F/-1021 degrees C.
The Fra Mauro site had the Apollo 14 monitoring station and that temperature drop went from 154.1 degrees F to -153 degrees F.
As astronomers view lunar eclipses they are learning more that they didn’t previously know. Looking at infrared images of the eclipsed moon showed that there are hundreds of what they refer to as “hot spots” on the surface of the moon.
These are places that have higher temperatures than their immediate surroundings. As scientists scan the areas it appears that a few of the craters, such as Tycho, may have a pattern of releasing heat that is stored by solar heat instead of releasing heat from the interior of the moon.
On the other hand, the Gassendi crater demonstrates a kind of thermal behavior that is traditionally expected from heat release due to an internal heat source.
Scientists have been studying these situations for over 50 years and still don’t have an agreed upon answer as to why the hot spots exist during a total lunar eclipse.
Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses can last quite a long time. The longest recorded total lunar eclipse was in 2000 and lasted 106 minutes.
This kind of duration can occur under special circumstances when the moon crosses through the center of the shadow of the Earth when the moon is at or near its farthest orbital point from the Earth.
This point is call an “apogee.” The moon moves slower when it’s near apogee and requires a longer amount of time for it to cross the shadow of the Earth.
Another factor for long total eclipses is that they tend to happen during the summer in the Northern Hemisphere when the Earth is at it farthest orbital point from the sun (called an “aphelion.”)
This situation for such a long total lunar eclipse won’t happen again until the year 4753.Scientists are studying whether there is a relationship between lunar eclipses and earthquakes.
In 1971 the Sylmar earthquake in San Francisco happened early in the morning and was a 6.7 on the Richter scale. It was only 15 hours later that a total lunar eclipse occurred and some theories indicate that the earthquake might have been due to the alignment of the sun, Earth, and moon.
The gravitational pulling of the sun, moon, and Earth in opposite directions caused the Earth to squeeze into a football shape. Other similar situations have happened in the past without causing an earthquake, so these theories have never been confirmed.
The next total lunar eclipse will occur on May 26, 2021. People from parts of North America, the Pacific, Australia, and Asia will be able to view it.
Facts about Lunar Eclipse for Kids:
- The Greek word “ekleipsis” is the original word where we derive “eclipse.” It translates to abandonment or downfall.
- There are rare situations where the eclipsed moon and sun can be viewed at the same time.
- Viewers of this phenomenon can see the sun and moon at different areas of the sky above the horizon and can only happen just before sunset or just after sunrise. This occurrence is called a “selenelion.”
- A “syzygy” is the alignment of the Earth, sun, and moon.
- If you were standing on the moon during a lunar eclipse the Earth would look dark due to the fact that the sun would be behind it.
- The moon is slowly moving away from our Earth at around 1.6 inches each year. At this rate a lunar eclipse will look completely different as it will alter the way the shadow of the Earth shows up on the moon’s face.
- Scientists tell us not to worry because it will take billions of years for any major change to the appearance of our lunar eclipses.
- You can get a list of past and future lunar eclipses on the NASA lunar eclipse page:https://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/lunar.html
Due to its historic association with superstition, total lunar eclipses have been included in many stories, television shows, films, video games, and music.
Three books, all entitled “Blood Moon” were written by authors Hal Lindsey, Sharman DiVono, and Gary Disher.
In films, there was the 1990 Australian horror movie called “Bloodmoon,” the 1997 action movie called “Bloodmoon,” and the 2001 film called “Wolf Girl” with an alternate title of “Blood Moon.
Television covered the topic in CSI: Miami, season 2 called “Blood Moon.” Season 5 of Quantum Leap had an episode entitled “Blood Moon.”
An episode of Sleepy Hollow was called “Blood Moon.” Season 1 episode of Star vs the Forces of Evil was called “Blood Moon Ball.”
A record album entitle “Blood Moon” was put out by the group Apes and Androids, and a video game that was an expansion to the 2002 Morrowind game was called “The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon.”