This week celestial objects are into the spotlight and news are turning all around them.
On Wednesday, we got hit by the news that liquid water has been discovered on the Red Planet. The discovery of the European Space Agency’s Mars Express mission of a salty liquid pool that stretches 12 miles wide gives hope to humanity that life on Mars is a possibility.
And tonight, Mars will be unusually close to Earth (a mere 35.8 million miles away from Earth) and visible to the naked eye, while the Moon will be the other red ‘star’ of the century’s longest lunar eclipse, lasting 1 hour and 43 minutes, which duration is close to the theoretical longest lunar eclipse possible (1 hour and 47 minutes).
The exceptional duration results from the Full Moon passing through the centre of Earth’s shadow, a spectacular occurrence, that is commonly known as a ‘blood moon’.
There are different suggestions when comes to the origin of the colloquial term. One links it to the reddish-copperish glow which the Moon gets when the Earth casts its shadow upon it during total lunar eclipse. The phenomenon is caused by the same effect that causes sunsets and sunrises to appear red and the sky blue – the Rayleigh scattering of sunlight through the Earth’s atmosphere.
The other hypothesis views the Blood Moon as an omen for the end of times. There are particular Christian ministers that claim the phrase stems from the Bible and is a prophecy for some difficult times ahead. The reference to this idea is The Book of Joel, where it is written that: “the sun will turn into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” The blood moon also appears in The Book of Revelation: “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”.
The first recorded use of the term in English does not appear in a work of prophecy, and comes from the 1871 novel Joshua Marvel where Benjamin Farjeon describes a scene of youthful imagination: “Then his imagination followed the river, ……which afterwards glides down into the valley: blood-moons, and such a wealth of stars in the heavens, and such feather-fringed azure clouds as made the heart beat to think of them”.
The next poetic, metaphoric use of the term comes from yet another novel, the 1908 Black Hand, where the author writes that: “On the evening of the fete a fiery meteor swept the heavens from the pillars of Hercules to the Winter Palace and a great blood-moon stood over Paris”, but this time it refers to an actual lunar eclipse, the one that appeared on Jun 28, 1908.
And while the 1908 lunar eclipse was a partial one, meaning the Moon was not appearing bloody, tonight we are going to observe a real total Blood Moon (visible from South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia), while Mars will be shining at its best in the night sky.