Tonight I hope you can get the chance to look up and see a very good lunar eclipse, where the Moon will be in the shadow of the Earth and take on a dreadful hue of orange and red. It will also be during a so-called “super moon” in that the Moon is at the closest point of its normal orbit to the Earth and will appear somewhat larger. While not necessarily rare, it is surely going to be a good show for the night.
And this lunar eclipse is going to top off a tetrad of lunar eclipses, that is where you have four lunar eclipses in a row that are about six months apart. This is also an uncommon astronomical coincidence, but it has happened numerous times in the past. Some centuries have had eight such tetrads, while others have had none.
But in numerous religious circles, in particular evangelical ones, this has been getting associated with the End Times. It seems that just about anything can be said to herald the apocalypse, from the fuzzy math of Harold Camping back in 2011, the abominable abuse of the Maya calendar for 2012, and so on, and so on, and so on… Perhaps then it shouldn’t be surprising that the Bloom Moon Prophecy of folks like pastor John Hagee are making the rounds. Fortunately, astronomer and skeptic Stuart Robbins has done the hard work of looking into these tetrads and how they are not so special, nor have they really related well to previous end times or bad times predictions (see here and here). The connection to the Jewish calendar is also not that surprising or special because the Jewish calendar is based on the phases of the moon (technically, a luni-solar calendar), so being surprised of having a lunar eclipse during a Jewish holiday is like being surprised of having the solstice near the 21st of December–it’s a feature, not a bug.
But what I was more surprised about was that now the Star of Bethlehem has been getting roped into this prophecy. How can a star from over 2000 years ago (and a magical one at that) have anything to do with what is happening in the skies today? Well, as was in the news, Jupiter and Venus had a rather beautiful conjunction earlier this year, and many were claiming this was a recreation of the Star of Bethlehem. This is based on the idea that in fact a close approach (or approaches) of Jupiter and Venus (along with the star Regulus) back in 3 and 2 BCE were the signs that heralded the Magi to come to the Christ child in Bethlehem. This is the basis of the Star of Bethlehem documentary I critiqued, and it isn’t a very good candidate for what the Star really was (or even if it was). Nonetheless, plenty of people heard that the Star of Bethlehem was back in the skies, and what could that possibly mean for us mere mortals?
In fact, John Hagee had something to say about it.
On other websites, it is getting connected to the Blood Moon tetrad, it has been getting connected to the Supreme Court ruling on gay marriage, and of course all the terror that should go along with the signs in the heavens. In fact, it’s not just Christians that have been interpreting the “return” of the Star as a sign of the end and/or the coming of the Messiah. The Turkish creationist Harun Yahya (Adnan Oktar) has this to say:
Our Prophet (saas) stated that the Star of Bethlehem will appear at the time of Hazrat Mahdi (pbuh). The Star of Bethlehem appeared recently. It appears once every 2,000 years; it appeared at the birth of the Prophet Jesus (pbuh) and once at the appearance of Hazrat Mahdi (pbuh).
For background, Mahdi is basically the one that comes during the period of final judgement to destroy evil in the world and for the sake of Islam. In other words, the Islamic form of the Second Coming.
Now, conjunctions between Venus and Jupiter are actually quite common, and the one back in June of this year wasn’t the closest seen in 2000 years, and closer ones will be in our near future. But this idea of the Star reappearing isn’t really that new either. When a supernova was see in 1572 it was interpreted by the theologian Theodore Beza, a successor to John Calvin, as the return of the Star and potentially a sign of the End Times. Beza’s short poem about this nova is recorded by and responded to by Tycho Brahe in his Progymnasmata. Brahe pointed out that the Christmas Star was not like anything in astronomy since it could do physically impossible things. and Johannes Kepler said the same in his work on the Star back in 1614.
Truly then, there is nothing new under the Sun.
So, there isn’t really anything to worry about with this lunar eclipse. With one exception: you can’t see it because of location or inclement weather. That should be the only worry. But where I’m at, I expect to see a great eclipse starting at around 8:11 PM EST (12:11 AM UTC). If you can, look at the Moon, because it will be a wonder to behold. And if you miss it, there will be another one in a couple of years.