Lunar eclipse of September 28, 2015.  Prime focus of my 80mm refractor.  Blurry image due to no tracking.  Poor weather conditions lulled me into not setting up my better telescope.

I was cruising the Internet news this week and came upon an article about the upcoming Sept 27, 2015 total lunar eclipse. Given I’m an astronomer, I read on. However, the article wasn’t about the science of an eclipse, but rather it was about religious prophecies regarding the eclipse. While there are many fortune tellers making predictions about what this eclipse is supposed to mean, one in particular has turned it into a money making machine. Pastor John Hagee has claimed that the latest tetrad (four consecutive total lunar eclipses, each separated by six lunar months) is a signal from God of some impending apocalypse, which will happen between April 2014 and October 2015. Rest assured, Hagee is nothing more than a typical charlatan or snake oil salesman. But his ignorance on astronomy and physics is more than compensated for by his shrewd business sense. He’s been fleecing the flock with sales of his book and movie on the subject.

First, let’s address the religious aspect of this prediction. According to the bible, God did put the stars in the sky to be used by man:

Genesis {1:14} And God said, Let there be lights in the firmament of the heaven to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and years

But the “signs” aren’t for fortune telling, or predicting the future, but rather for when to do things, like plant crops, ready for winter, etc. That’s because the stars are fixed, and move in a repeatable pattern, so we can associate them with seasonal changes. Then God created the Sun and Moon:

Genesis {1:16} And God made two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night

But notice that there’s no mention of using them for signs or seasons. That’s because the moon varies too much (though scientifically predictable) to be associated with seasons. And while the Sun could be used seasonally (it actually is in some cases), the stars can’t be seen when it’s out.

The bottom line is that trying to predict the future based on lunar eclipses is nothing more than fortune telling, like reading someone’s palm, or tea leaves, or a casting of bones. It’s nothing new. Astrologers and fortune tellers have been doing it for thousands of years. But it’s right up there with witchcraft. And anyone that does it is committing a sin according to the bible. Here are just a couple of references of many:

Deuteronomy{18:10} There shall not be found among you [any one] that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, [or] an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, {18:11} Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. {18:12} For all that do these things [are] an abomination unto the LORD

2 Chronicles{33:6} And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.

I find it highly ironic, and troubling, that a Christian pastor is using astrology/witchcraft and fortune telling to make money, something explicitly condemned in the bible. And I find it sad that Christians accept this and don’t call him out on it. Christians wouldn’t go to an astrologer or palm reader to find out the future, so why in the world would they listen to a pastor doing the same exact thing? He might as well be using an Ouija board!

Now, let’s discuss the fun part of this, the actual astronomy and scientific happenings of an eclipse. A total lunar eclipse happens when the Earth passes directly between the Sun and the Moon, and casts its shadow upon the Moon. If you were on the moon, you’d see a total eclipse of the sun (by the earth). Because the earth has an atmosphere, the moon doesn’t get totally blacked out. Sunlight is refracted through the atmosphere and still illuminates the moon, but it does it as a reddish, coppery color. Hence the name “blood moon”. Some lunar eclipses are darker than others, some redder than others. It all depends on what’s in the atmosphere at the time, like particulates from large volcanic eruption.

Pastor John Hagee is quite ignorant on the science of astronomy. He claims that God is controlling the moon and sun in order to produce these eclipses for his fortune telling. That is incorrect. The moon and sun are following their highly predictable orbits, and these eclipses are easily calculated. And while tetrads are relatively rare, they aren’t one of a kind. There have been 62 of them since the first century. They are natural rather than supernatural, and are easily calculated.

Furthermore, Pastor John Hagee puts significance on these latest eclipses because he claims they fall on Jewish holidays. However, due to his ignorance of astronomy, he failed to realize that some of the four eclipses weren’t even visible from Israel, the Holy Land. What good is a blood moon for a sign to the Jewish people if it can’t even be seen from the Jewish land?! This is just more evidence that Pastor John Hagee doesn’t know what he’s talking about, and that people shouldn’t be supporting him with his business of fortune telling and astrology.

If skies are clear, the eclipse should be beautiful. Totality is at around 10:48pm, Eastern Time. Because this is a lunar eclipse, it’s totally safe to look at. You’re only seeing the shadow of the earth on the moon. The variable in this is how deep of a red will the moon be. That’s always the surprise.

Jeff Polston