Eclipse Blinds Pets! (And Other Bad Science)

pool closed due to eclipse

The road to Science Hell is paved with good intentions.

As I anxiously await my ninth total eclipse of the sun here in Western Kentucky, I was shocked to see that the swimming pool would be closed during the event in the interest of public safety. Is our resort afraid people will lose their way in the darkness and fall in & drown, or has a viral Internet rumor been spreading that looking at an eclipse while immersed in water will cause blindness?

Egad.

Bad science abounds around eclipse time.  From people locking children indoors for “protection”, to religious leaders predicting the end of the world is nigh, something about losing the sun for a few minutes brings out the daft among us.

Knowing that I’m an eclipse buff, some well-meaning coworkers at the office passed along the following semi-viral internet meme, warning of the dire consequences of not locking your pets inside during the “Great American Eclipse” of August 21:

eclipse will not cause pet blindness

Bad eclipse science runs rampant on social media (click/enlarge)

Pets going blind because of the eclipse?  No.  Just no.

If you aren’t in the path of totality, staring at the partially eclipsed sun is going to be just as painful and counterintuitive for your cat/dog/guppy as it would be for you. Even with 99% of the sun blocked by the moon, as it will be near my home town of Lexington, KY, the sun will be far too bright to look at with the naked eye. So why, pray tell, would Whiskers and Fido suddenly feel the urge to stare intently at the sun and fry their retinas like bacon?

Answer: they won’t. The only odd behavior you might notice from a pet during this eclipse would be if you happen to own a critter that routinely feeds or beds down at sunset. Animals sometimes get tricked into thinking that the eclipse signals nightfall. Bessie the Cow might head for the trough, Trigger the Horse might head for the barn, but if you plan on putting either in the house to protect them from the eclipse, you’re wasting your time (and risking severe carpet damage).

The only animals who need to worry about protecting their eyes during this eclipse are humans. We know something special is happening, so we tend to do something unnatural and stare at the sun. Proper eye protection is de rigeur in this case during the partial phases of the eclipse.

Fido and the other pets will have no clue what’s going on, and will happily go about their business–unless some Facebook addict ruins their day by locking them in the house.

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John Hagee Repeats His “Blood Moon” Errors–On Film

blood moon

Total lunar eclipse. October 17, 2014.  (Photo by the author.)

With a beautiful total lunar eclipse on slate for Saturday, April 4, old earth creationist John Hagee has resurfaced with revived claims of prophecies in the skies.  I wrote about Hagee earlier this year, debunking his claim that a tetrad (series of 4) “blood moons” was a sign from the heavens that something significant was about to happen in Israel.

This time, Hagee is back with a movie.  “Four Blood Moons”1 rehashes the false claims the pastor made in his book by the same name.  The film opened with a special one-day release on March 23 and returns for an encore on April 9.  Based on the movie’s trailer and interviews with Hagee, it doesn’t look like the creationist has added anything new to the claims I’ve already debunked.  So I’d like to just hit the highlights here.  For a thorough point-by-point refutation of Hagee’s claims, complete with references (NASA tables of solar eclipses, information on the Hebrew calendar, the pastor’s historical mistakes, etc.), please see my article “Oh Bloody…“.2

To review: the pastor claims that major events in the history of Israel are linked to total lunar eclipses occurring on the Jewish holidays of Passover and Sukkot.  The pattern that he sees goes something like this:

  1. Tragedy knocks on the door of Israel and/or the Jewish people.
  2. Miraculous victory is somehow snatched from the jaws of defeat.
  3. (1) and (2) are announced in the heavens by a tetrad of “blood moons” (total lunar eclipses) that magically occur during one of two Jewish holy weeks.

Hagee’s conclusion: divine intervention in Israel, proven by an invisible hand controlling the positions of the sun, earth, and moon.

Wow.

As I explained in (excruciating?) detail in my earlier piece on this subject,2 Hagee is wrong in nearly every way imaginable:

1. Holidays on the Hebrew calendar are tied to lunar phases because humans designed the calendar that way.  Periodic adjustments are made to the calendar–by humans–to keep seasons (and, as a result, religious holidays) “aligned”.  It’s no accident that the sun, moon, and earth are lined up in a certain way on a given Jewish holiday.  People constructed the calendar in that manner–and they go to a lot of trouble to keep it from changing, even periodically adding a temporary month to keep the holidays from drifting out of alignment.

2. Major events cited as miraculous by Hagee do not actually coincide with “blood moons”.  He apparently never bothered to check an almanac of eclipses.  His 1967 “Six Day War” example is a great illustration.  Yes, it was triumph from tragedy for Israel.  Unfortunately for the good pastor, there was no lunar eclipse on Passover or Sukkot in ’67.  Oops.

3. In fact, most major events in Israel’s history don’t occur anywhere near an eclipse.  If the heavens are being used as a signalling device, it’s broken most of the time.  I offer as evidence the Yom Kippur War of 1973.  If ever Israel turned tragedy into triumph, wouldn’t beating off the overwhelming surprise attack in 1973 be a prime example?  Where were the holiday eclipses?  Answer: there weren’t any.

4. Hagee’s command of history is shaky at best.  For example, America wasn’t “discovered” by Columbus as Hagee claims–there were already people living there when the explorer arrived.  In any event, he wasn’t the first outsider to arrive in North America.  And, while credence could be given to the minister’s claim that the United States became an eventual safe haven for the Jewish people, it certainly didn’t remain that way for the millions of Native Americans who died at the hands of European settlers.

And, dare I mention… there was no Passover/Sukkot eclipse in 1492?

John Hagee

John Hagee gets it wrong again.

Other than the simple truth that eclipses actually happen, John Hagee doesn’t even try to get his story straight.  And, for some reason, his followers eat his nonsense up.  It’s a shame that an event that’s beautiful and wondrous in its own right has to be linked to superstition and fear, and that those who follow Hagee won’t take the time to fact check him.

While not as awe-inspiring as total eclipses of the sun, lunar eclipses are still a treat–and visible from a larger portion of the earth’s surface than their solar counterparts.  To check visibility of the April 4 eclipse from your area of the world, NASA provides a nice map.3 Sky & Telescope magazine offers up a brief article on the eclipse along with timetables.4

Image Credits
Lunar eclipse photography by the author.  Copyright (c) 2015 Mark Aaron Alsip.  All rights reserved.

“John Hagee at Podium” from Wiki Commons, by owner Christians United for Israel.  Released into public domain by owner.  Image owner does not necessarily agree with or endorse the views expressed by the author.

References
Note: to avoid increasing search engine exposure for quack web sites, I use the DoNotLink service to obfuscate URLs.   You have my promise you’re being redirected to the web site indicated in the title 🙂

(1) Four Blood Moons (Movie Official Page–Facebook)
http://www.donotlink.com/eeey

(2) Oh Bloody…
https://badscidebunked.wordpress.com/2015/02/05/oh-bloody/

(3) Total Lunar Eclipse of 2015 Apr 04 (NASA)
http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEplot/LEplot2001/LE2015Apr04T.pdf

Oh Bloody…

“Blood Moon” over Kentucky. Photo by the author.

As an avid astronomer, it would be nice to have just one celestial event that wasn’t hijacked by an astrologer, new age mystic, cult, or end-of-days preacher.10,11,12  This time it’s the latter — old earth creationist John Hagee popping up with his twisted interpretation of last November’s “blood moon”, a beautiful lunar eclipse visible from much of the world.

Hagee believes that lunar eclipses are tied to major events in the history of Israel and the Jewish calendar.  He couldn’t be more wrong.

Following is a debunking in simple quote/response format using Hagee’s statements as they appeared in an online article published by CBN.Since this is a science blog, I’ll concentrate mainly on the astronomy, but weave in enough history and religion to show just how far the preacher goes in violating his religion’s prohibition against lying.

What we’re going to see is that (1) there are no lunar eclipses occurring on most of the dates that Hagee claims, and (2) major events in Israel’s history occurred when there weren’t any eclipses, and (3) events on the Jewish calendar are tied to the lunar cycle because people designed it that way.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started…

 

John Hagee

John Hagee.

Quote:

“A blood moon is when the Earth comes between the sun and the moon,  […] and the sun is shining through the atmosphere of the Earth and casts up on the moon a red shadow.  And so the moon appears to be red.”

Response:  One point to Hagee.  He got something right.  Unfortunately, it’s all downhill from here…

 

Quote:

“The sun and the moon and the Earth are controlled by God almighty,” Hagee said. “He is the one that is getting them in a direct alignment on a certain day at a certain time — but each time, it’s a Passover or Sukkot.”

Response:  The paths of the sun and moon are controlled by gravity and inertia, just like all the other bodies in the universe.  But even if you grant Hagee the point and say that God created inertia and gravity, there’s still nothing special about a blood moon occurring on a Jewish holiday.

Jewish holidays are based on a lunar calendar, not a solar calendar.  This means that, from year to year, they don’t  begin on the same day of the solar calendar that Hagee uses (running from January through December).  Stay with me…

Lunar eclipses can only occur during a full moon, when the earth is between the sun and the moon.  It’s important to keep this in mind, so I’ll say it again: lunar eclipses (blood moons) can only occur during a certain phase of the moon (full moon).

It’s not a coincidence that the moon is in a certain phase when a given Jewish holiday begins–and it’s not a miracle–it’s the only time it can happen.  Judaism placed its holidays on a lunar calendar, just as Americans placed the 4th of July holiday on a solar calendar.

Compare a list of Jewish holidays to moon phases during 20142,3 and do the same for 20152,3 and 2016,2,3 and you’ll quickly see the connection.  Keep in mind that the cited tables list solar calendar dates, but the Jewish holidays are based on a lunar calendar.  These different calendars add to the woo factor of Hagee’s miracles.  The Jewish holidays keep popping up on different dates on Hagee’s solar calendar and the moon appears to be “chasing” those holiday dates.  It’s magic!

Well, not really…

Jewish Calendar

24-year Jewish calendar showing the month Adar II (the month of Adar bumped from its normal spot on the calendar by the leap-year addition Adar I). Click image for large version.

There’s a fun twist: it takes the moon a little over 29.5 solar days to orbit the earth, so the Jewish month is about an odd half solar day long.  Over time this “error” accumulates and would force holidays to occur out of season as days shift on the calendar.

To compensate, every few years, an extra month is inserted into the calendar.  The regular month of Adar becomes “Adar II”, and the temporary extra month is named “Adar I”.  This concept should be familiar to many — a solar year is really 365.25 days long, not 365.  Over time, this error would accumulate and the seasons/holidays of the solar calendar would become “off”.  (For Northern Hemisphere Christians, Christmas (December 25) would eventually occur in the summer!)

We know the corrective measure as the leap year.

Why am I banging away at the details like this?  To impress upon the reader just how hard people have worked throughout history to make sure that events such as religious holidays here on earth line up with an event going on up in the sky.

There’s an additional twist: in Judaism, days begin at nightfall, not at midnight as they do on the solar calendar.  For those of you keeping score at home, tying a calendar to both the moon and sun in ways like this technically makes the Jewish calendar a “lunisolar” calendar.  (You’re welcome).

But is there an eclipse every full moon? No.  This is because of yet another twist: with respect to the earth’s orbit around the sun (the “ecliptic”), the moon’s orbit forms an angle of approximately 5 degrees.  Put more simply, if you drew a line between the middle of the earth to the middle of the sun, the moon would appear to swing “above” or “below” the line by 5 degrees as it orbits.  Usually, when the moon is full, it is “above” or “below” our planet’s shadow, and no eclipse occurs.

So, given all of this information on Jewish holidays, full moons, and lunar eclipses, we’re finally ready to look at some actual historical events and Hagee’s claims, and see what, if anything, has been happening on certain Jewish holidays.  Can we make any prophecies of future events based on what we find?

 

Quote:

“I believe that in these next two years, we’re going to see something dramatic happen in the Middle East involving Israel that will change the course of history in the Middle East and impact the whole world.”

Response:  When is something not happening involving Israel that impacts the Middle East and the whole world?13  This is, remember, a country straddling the geographic heart and soul of 3 major world religions.  This kind of prophecy is as easy as predicting an earthquake on the San Andreas fault.  Can you be more specific please?

1948 War map

Israel’s 1948 War.  When is something of importance NOT happening here?  Click image to enlarge.

Quote:

In the past, the rare appearance of four blood moons on these feast days has coincided with major events for Israel and the Jewish people.

In 1492, Spain expelled the Jews. Columbus also discovered America, which became a safe haven for the Jewish people.

Response:  Columbus didn’t “discover” America.  There were millions of people living there when he arrived.  But the honor of being the first foreigner to discover the continent is seriously in doubt.5  Historians say that serious claimants include John Chabot and the Vikings.  But it doesn’t matter.  There were a lot of people living in America when Columbus arrived… consensus estimates seem to put the total around ten million, though some go higher.4

Unfortunately for Hagee there were no total eclipses of the moon in 1492.  There’s nothing even close.  Had he bothered to check, he would not have found totality before November 27, 1490 and then not again until April 2, 1493.16

Having already missed the mark with no total lunar eclipses in Columbus’ banner year, Hagee will be saddened to learn that not even his 1490 and 1493 eclipses occurred during Passover or Sukkot.16,17,18

As a side-note… America did indeed become a safe haven for the Jewish people, as Hagee states, but sadly it did not remain so for the millions of people already living there when Columbus arrived.15

 

Quote:

 “In each of these blood moons, you have something that begins in tragedy and ends in triumph”

Response:  On October 6, 1973,  Arab states launched a surprise attack on Israel during Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the year in Judaism.  Israel was sent reeling by the attack but turned tragedy into triumph, reaching the outskirts of Damascus in Syria and completely encircling the Egyptian army in the Sinai Peninsula.6

There was no set of 4 blood moons.  There wasn’t even a lunar eclipse during the holidays.7

Wait a minute.  I thought events beginning with tragedy and ending in triumph were supposed to be signaled by blood moons?

Israeli tank, Yom Kippur War

Destroyed Israeli tank, 1973 Yom Kippur War. The war began in tragedy and ended in triumph.   There was no “blood moon.”

 

In all fairness to Hagee, I picked the 1973 date.  So let’s let John pick the date…

 

Quote:

“In 1967, Israel won the Six-Day War and recaptured Jerusalem.

“For the first time in 2,000 years, Jerusalem and the State of Israel were together again,” Hagee said.

Response:  It kills me when authors don’t take time to do their own research.  Notice that in the previous response, I picked the war, and could be accused of cheating.  This time, Hagee picked the war.  Let’s look at 1967:

In 1967 PLO attacks on Israel, Syrian attacks on Israeli civilian settlements, and massing of Egyptian troops on the Israeli border resulted in Israel launching an attack on Jordan, Egypt, and Syria.  The three main Arab belligerents were supported by 11 additional Arab countries and/or political factions.  In just 6 days, Israel won large swathes of new territory, turning tragedy into what some consider miraculous victory.8

There was no set of 4 blood moons.  There wasn’t even a lunar eclipse during the holidays.9

Israeli soldiers, 6 Day War

Israeli soldiers, 1967 “6 Day War”.  The war began in tragedy and ended in triumph.  There was no “blood moon.”

 

Quote:

“He said it’s still unclear what the coming blood moons will bring, but he is certain of one thing.”

Response:  Given Hagee’s horrendous track record in history and predictions, I don’t even want to know what that one thing is.

 

Eclipse over home

Totality is ending. So is this article.   Image by the author.

Image Credits

All lunar eclipse photography by the author.  Copyright (c) 2014 Mark Aaron Alsip.  All rights reserved.

“John Hagee at Podium” from Wiki Commons, by owner Christians United for Israel.  Released into public domain by owner.    Image owner does not necessarily agree with or endorse the views expressed by the author.

“24 year Jewish Calendar for Adar II” from Wiki Commons.  This work is in the public domain of the United States because copyright has expired due to publication date prior to January 1, 1923.

“Israeli Soldiers in 6 Day War” from Wiki Commons.  Released into public domain for all use by owner “ROSENMAN424“.  Image owner does not necessarily agree with or endorse the views expressed by the author.

“Destroyed Israeli Tank” from Wiki Commons.  Image is in public domain as a work of the Egyptian government.

“Israel 1948 War map” from Wiki Commons.  Image released into public domain by Mr. Edward J. Krasnoborski and Mr. Frank Martini, Department of History, U.S. Military Academy.   Map authors do not necessarily agree with or endorse the views expressed by the author.

 

References

Note: To avoid increasing search engine exposure for quack web sites while still providing a link to all my references (like a good scientist should), I use the DoNotLink URL obfuscator to alter links to those sites.  I promise you I’m not redirecting you to porn 🙂

(1) Divine Sign for Israel? Hagee Explains Blood Moons (CBN article being debunked)
http://www.donotlink.com/gp0

(2) Jewish Holidays and Festivals for 2014, 2015, 2016 (Chabab.org)
http://www.chabad.org/holidays/default_cdo/jewish/holidays.htm

(3) Full Moon Calendar – dates and times for 2014, 2015, 2016
http://moongiant.com/Full_Moon_New_Moon_Calendar.php

(4) Alan Taylor (2002). American colonies; Vol 1, Penguin History of the United States, p. 40. ISBN 9780142002100
http://books.google.com/books?id=NPoAQRgkrOcC&pg=PA40&dq=pre-Columbian+population+million&cd=6#v=onepage&q=pre-Columbian%20population%20million&f=false

(5) So, Who Did Discover America?
http://www.historytoday.com/s-frederick-starr/so-who-did-discover-america

(6) Jewish Virtual Library, Chapter 8: The 1973 Yom Kippur War
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/myths3/MF1973.html

(7) Lunar Eclipses: 1971 – 1980
http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEdecade/LEdecade1971.html

(8) The Six-Day War: Background & Overview
http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/67_War.html

(9) Catalog of Lunar Eclipses: 1901 to 2000
http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEcat5/LE1901-2000.html

(10) New Age followers still waiting for aliens to beam them up 15 years after Heaven’s Gate cult suicides left 39 people dead
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2120869/Heavens-Gate-cult-committed-mass-suicide-15-years-ago.html

(11) Alignment 2012 by John Major Jenkins
http://www.donotlink.com/bz8t

(12) Major Planetary Configurations (“Astrology- Find Your Fate”)
http://www.donotlink.com/bz8s

(13) Key Dates in Israel’s History
http://archive.adl.org/israel/advocacy/chronology.html#.VDbmyRaV00o

(14)  Jewish Calendar
http://www.jewfaq.org/calendar.htm

(15) Wounded Knee
http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/knee.htm

(16) NASA Five Millennium Catalog of Lunar Eclipses (1401 to 1500)
http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/LEcat5/LE1401-1500.html

(17) Hebrew Calendar 2271 – 2272 (Roman year 1940 B.C.)
http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/?roman=1490b.c.e

(18) Hebrew Calendar 2268 – 2269 (Roman year 1943 B.C.)
http://www.cgsf.org/dbeattie/calendar/?roman=1493b.c.e