'What is a blood moon?' and other fun questions about the upcoming apocalypse

The internet's got end-of-the-world fever: here's what's really happening

Tetrads, blood moons and the apocalypse: sometimes it seems that there’s just too many mystical-sounding buzzwords floating around not to throw your hands up and start proclaiming the end of days.

At least, this seems to have been the inspiration for apocalypse-mongerers who have been busy greeting a fairly rare (but completely foreseeable) astronomical event as the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy of global catastrophe.

To explain what’s happening as succinctly as possible: on the 15th of April you’ll be able to see the first total lunar eclipse in a series of four (a phenomenon known as a tetrad to astronomers), which will also happen to coincide with the Jewish festivals of Passover and Sukkot in 2014 and 2015.

Lunar eclipses in general are sometimes called ‘blood moons’ because the light bouncing off the moon is refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere giving it a coppery hue (it’s the same mechanism that make sunsets and sunrises look red). 

From Revelation 6:12: “I watched as he opened the sixth seal. There was a great earthquake. The Sun turned black like sackcloth made of goat hair. The whole Moon turned blood red."

At some point however, some individuals decided that although on their own these phenomena aren’t incredibly noteworthy, in aggregate they make for a decent bit of apocalypse mongering. Add in some suitably Dan Brown-esque bible soundbites (“The sun will be turned to darkness, and the Moon to blood before the great and dreadful day of the LORD comes”) and you’re halfway to the New York Times’ Best Seller list.

The main culprit in all this is American pastor and author John Hagee, whose 2013 book Four Blood Moons: Something Is About To Change seems to have popularised the notion that four successive ‘blood moons’ is an event of some significance.

“Every time this has happened in the last 500 years, it has coincided with tragedy for the Jewish people followed by triumph,” Hagee told The Daily Express. “And once again, for Israel, the timing of this Tetrad is remarkable.”

The tetrad has previously occured during the Six-Day war between Israel and the neighbouring states of Egypt, Jordan and Syria.

Hagee goes on to say that each of the next four total lunar eclipses will coincide with Passover (15 April in 2014, 4 April in 2015) and Sukkot, otherwise known as the Feast of the Tabernacles (8 October in 2014 and 28 September in 2015).

This is certainly unusual but hardly surprising given that the Jewish calendar is based partly on lunar cycles: Passover is always marked by a full moon and a lunar eclipse cannot – by definition – happen at any other time apart from a full moon.

Writing over at Universe Today, David Dickinson spells it out clearly: “Eclipses happen, and sometimes they occur on Passover. It’s rare that they pop up on tetrad cycles, yes, but it’s at best a mathematical curiosity that is a result of our attempt to keep our various calendrical systems in sync with the heavens.”

Dickinson also notes that tetrads aren’t actually that unusual. They occur when there are four successive total lunar eclipses separated by six month periods, with the Earth placed directly between the Moon and the Sun, first refracting sunlight through the atmosphere onto the Moon (this is what makes it ‘red’) and then blocking all direct illumination (this the actual eclipse). 

A composite image showing the various stages of a lunar eclipse from 2007.

However, this isn’t even the first tetrad of this century (that was in 2003-2004) and including this next quartet there will be seven more before the year 2100. 

Although it's certainly rarer for all four eclipses to coincide with Passover and Sukkot (this has happened only eight times since 162 CE) it's still a frequent enough occurrence to make events of 'historical significance' happening on the same nothing more than coincidence. Throw a dart at a calendar and you’ll find something of ‘historical significance’ happening on that day - it’s just what history is like.

So, although the thought of watching a good lunar eclipse is pretty exciting (simply head outside on the night of the 15th – no special equipment necessary) the end-of-the-world stuff is about as credible as the Mayan prophecies back in 2012. If you survived them then you’ll probably be A-OK over the next couple of weeks. We promise.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: SAGE Bookkeeper & PA to Directors

£18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity has ari...

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Day In a Page

Seifeddine Rezgui: What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?

Making of a killer

What motivated a shy student to kill 38 holidaymakers in Tunisia?
UK Heatwave: Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle

Just when you thought your commute couldn't get any worse...

Heatwave will see temperatures on the Tube exceed legal limit for transporting cattle
Exclusive - The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Swapping Bucharest for London

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Meet the man who swapped Romania for the UK in a bid to provide for his family, only to discover that the home he left behind wasn't quite what it seemed
Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Cheaper energy on the way, but it's not all sunshine and rainbows

Solar power will help bring down electricity prices over the next five years, according to a new report. But it’s cheap imports of ‘dirty power’ that will lower them the most
Katy Perry prevented from buying California convent for $14.5m after nuns sell to local businesswoman instead

No grace of God for Katy Perry as sisters act to stop her buying convent

Archdiocese sues nuns who turned down star’s $14.5m because they don’t approve of her
Ajmer: The ancient Indian metropolis chosen to be a 'smart city' where residents would just be happy to have power and running water

Residents just want water and power in a city chosen to be a ‘smart’ metropolis

The Indian Government has launched an ambitious plan to transform 100 of its crumbling cities
Michael Fassbender in 'Macbeth': The Scottish play on film, from Welles to Cheggers

Something wicked?

Films of Macbeth don’t always end well - just ask Orson Welles... and Keith Chegwin
10 best sun creams for body

10 best sun creams for body

Make sure you’re protected from head to toe in the heatwave
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon files

Milos Raonic has ability to get to the top but he must learn to handle pressure in big games
Women's World Cup 2015: How England's semi-final success could do wonders for both sexes

There is more than a shiny trophy to be won by England’s World Cup women

The success of the decidedly non-famous females wearing the Three Lions could do wonders for a ‘man’s game’ riddled with cynicism and greed
How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map