On May 5th, the first lunar eclipse of 2023 happens and will be visible from Antarctica, Africa, Asia, and Australia. Though we won’t see it in North America, scientists here are still talking about it because studying eclipses helps them learn about the moon, and the sun and how they influence life here on Earth.
Friday’s event is a penumbral eclipse when the moon passes deep into the outer part of the Earth’s shadow (known as the penumbra). By scientific calculation, this is the deepest penumbral eclipse we’ll have until September 2042.
Eclipses, as you probably know, always come in pairs. Friday’s lunar eclipse finishes the cycle which started with a solar eclipse two weeks ago, on April 19th. People who love astronomy (and astrology too) call this time of year eclipse season because the alignments that cause the eclipses to happen take slightly more than a month to play out.
There are many myths about eclipses. The ancient Greeks believed that a solar eclipse was the sign of angry Gods and the beginning of death and destruction. On a more positive note, Italians still believe that flowers planted during a solar eclipse are brighter and more colourful than flowers planted at any other time of the year.
Lunar eclipse myths can be somewhat frightening, with many ancient cultures interpreting the moon’s eclipse as wreaking ‘havoc in the sky’ and believing that the same havoc was destined to happen on Earth. The Batammaliba people from Togo and Benin in Africa have a different, more optimistic take. Their ancient myth tells them that the sun and moon are fighting and that eclipses are a natural time to come together and resolve old feuds and anger.
Authors have also been inspired by eclipses, sometimes using them as important plot elements. Consider A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain; Nightfall by Isaac Asimov; Dolores Claiborne by Stephen King; Eclipse and Shroud by John Banville. And for younger readers, Sunwing by Kenneth Oppel and Every Soul A Star by Wendy Mass both utilize eclipses.
To me, eclipses signal change and new beginnings, which happens to fit perfectly with the start of spring. Happy Eclipse season!