Lunar and Solar Eclipses have been mythical events since the beginning of time.
Traditionally eclipses bring major changes, unpredictable situations, shocking revelations, and/or sudden endings. The advice used to be, don’t take too many risks or make too many changes during this unpredictable time. But eclipses can also be catalysts, showing up things that were hidden before which now are coming to light. For example, you become aware your partner is having an affair or a much more positive thought – for a while, your boss had you in mind for a promotion, but now it comes to light and you get the offer.
Some Ancient rulers took the prediction of eclipses and their linked fate very seriously as they believed an eclipse signaled a bad omen. Almost 4000 years ago the Chinese king Zhong Kang beheaded 2 of his astronomers for failing to predict accurately when the next eclipse would appear. The Assyrians and later Babylonians were more accurate in their predictions. One text mentions the solar eclipse during June 763 B.C. which was well observed and recorded.
Another connection often made with eclipses is the appearance of natural disasters. The archaeologist Bruce Masse claimed that an eclipse happened at the time of a major meteor impact in the Indian Ocean on May 10th, 2807 B.C., and subsequent floods and tsunamis followed.
There are total ( when the moon, sun, and earth practically align) and partial lunar eclipses – when only part of the sun is darkened. Lunar eclipses are always linked to New Moons and only occur during this time. When you see a full lunar eclipse the moon (normally invisible at New Moon) turns dark red as illuminated not by the sun, but by the light coming from the earth’s atmosphere.
Why don’t we see a lunar eclipse on every New Moon?
In fact, if the moon were to orbit in a perfect circle around the Earth, exactly this scenario would happen. But the lunar path is slightly tilted, in fact, leaning around 5 degrees, so it misses the perfect position by a bit. But occasionally the path slightly overlap (partial eclipse) and on rarer occasions perfectly align – that is then a full lunar eclipse.
Here is a clip that shows exactly what happens during a lunar eclipse
These only happen during Full Moon and we often speak of ‘eclipse cycles’. This means the planet’s parth rotate in a way that they align or overlap. On average 2-5 eclipses occur during one eclipse season, lasting around 12-16 months. Total eclipses are very rare astronomical events that have had historically immense meanings and have always captured our imagination. So it is not surprising eclipses have been linked to important historical events. There apparently was a solar eclipse when Jesus died and another when Mohammed was born.
In 1919 a total lunar eclipse blocked all sunlight for a full 6 minutes and 51 seconds, giving scientists time to measure the bending of the light from the stars. These findings were instrumental in the explanation of Einstein’s theory of general relativity.
Find out more about historically significant solar eclipses
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