Blood Moon

The Hunter’s Moon is full at 6:02am (EST) on November 8th, but that’s not why this is the blood moon. That appellation is a recent attempt to glamorize a full lunar eclipse which, of course, also happens early tomorrow morning. The moon begins to slide into eclipse at 3:01am EST and is done by 8:58am EST. The full phase — the red phase — begins at 5:16am EST, reaches maximum at 5:59am EST and leaves totality at 6:41am EST. If the weather stays as it is, blustery and mostly cloudless, we in New England might get to see this total eclipse, unlike April’s which hit totality exactly when thick clouds rolled in. Most of us ended up watching live feeds from Arizona, which just isn’t the same…

Calling this the blood moon may seem like some dark ancient prophecy, and it does indeed have ties to prognostication. Bob Berman at The Old Farmer’s Almanac tells us that this name is media hype generated around the 2014-2015 string of consecutive full lunar eclipses. Some of the end times wing nuts decided that this unusual series of night sky events was a sign of the coming rapture. They based their claims on a few references in Hebrew-Christian texts, one of which is John’s Revelations (which was not at all the drug-induced hallucinations of a half-starved, hunted, and incredibly isolated late 1st century mystic who may or may not have been named John…). The Revelations quote is “And I beheld when he had opened the sixth seal, and, lo, there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth of hair, and the moon became as blood.” Which of course, begs many questions, not least what happened to seals one through five?

In any case, the world did not end. Our culture did not even end, though it does seem like 2015 might be a reasonable marker of the beginning of the end — if you discount all the other reasonable markers that have shown unequivocally for decades that we’re living in an inexorable train wreck. However, 2015 is when the shale oil boom that had propped up the ailing conventional oil economy began to slide into bust. But I digress…

The world did not end and we are not going to see a rapture any time soon, however the bloody name stuck; and now every beautiful lunar eclipse is slapped with this gory epithet. It’s not even accurate. The full eclipse does turn red, but it’s far more orange and gold than blood. If your blood is that color, I think you have worse problems than the end times.

What we are seeing is our atmosphere and — and this is far more interesting — bent light. That we can see the moon in eclipse is proof that light does not travel in a straight line — or more accurately that lines in a curved universe can’t be straight. Isn’t that fascinating!

In a lunar eclipse the moon is in Earth’s shadow (remember this?). Most of the sunlight that the moon normally reflects back at us is blocked in an eclipse, but there are sufficient light waves that are curved around our planet to hit the moon and make it glow dimly. The Earth’s atmosphere then plays its hand by scattering all the blue wavelengths (why the sky is blue, by the way, for when your 5-year-old next asks), leaving us with the warm end of the spectrum — the yellows, oranges and reds. I suspect there’s fantastic infrared radiation in there that we can’t see because those long wavelengths curl more readily around our planet.

This is what a full lunar eclipse looks like to our eyes.

To me, this is far more a ball of rust than a clot of blood. For all that the moon has nothing to do with this light show except serving as a mirror, rust is actually close to what you are seeing as you gaze at the moon. Blood and rust both get their red color from oxidized iron, and the moon is an enormous glob of iron-rich silicate rock. What the moon does not have is an atmosphere rich in oxygen. So the moon is not rusty red; it is dull steel grey.

Because the geometry of eclipsing works best around the equinoxes, it is not unusual to have a blood moon eclipse during the full moon of what some cultures in the Northern Hemisphere name the Blood Moon, the moon cycle that is full closest to Martinmas, 11 November, now Veteran’s or Remembrance Day. Blood Moon has never been an “official” name (not that any moon cycle name, aside from the Roman months, is all that official). It refers to the cull of herds and flocks that typically happens very late in the autumn and early winter — well before winter dearth sets in and surplus animals starve, yet after the warmth of summer has ended so that it is easier to process all the meat. The cold temperatures keep the carcasses from rotting. It’s still not pleasant, and there is indeed quite a lot of blood. Most farms were awash in it this time of year. I’m sure my ancestors would have noted the coincidence between the annual cull, their month of Blood Moon, and the occasional red moon glaring down on them, our blood moon — noted it and not been too happy seeing all that red.

So tomorrow we have a blood moon for the Full Hunter’s Moon, which I talked about last month, and which falls just a few days shy of Martinmas, the traditional harvest of the herds. This may not be the end times, but it certainly is a time of endings. The Hunters are abroad gathering up the dead souls. The barnyard stinks with blood and offal. And the moon is turning bloody. Doesn’t take too much imagination to feel like there could be meaning, perhaps judgement, in all that taken together.

Still, I’ll be getting up early to watch the eclipse. I hope you get to do so as well. We don’t get another blood moon until 14 March 2025. A lot can happen in that time! (But probably not the rapture…)


©Elizabeth Anker 2022

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