What the hell is happening?

After reading this entry on Rich Daley's blog I was reminded of something I was thinking about on Saturday night.

What do people who have no knowledge or interest in astronomy make of something like a total lunar eclipse? Here in the UK you'd be hard pushed to find someone who didn't know that a total solar eclipse was coming, it's such a rare occurrence that it would be reported everywhere for days prior to the event (as it was in 1999). Most partial solar eclipses won't be noticed, most people who haven't been told about it won't know it's happening.

Partial lunar eclipses probably aren't noticed either, I'm guessing that most people, even if they noticed that part of the Moon was missing, would assume it's just one of the Moon's phases (it's not uncommon for people to think that the Earth's shadow is responsible for the Moon's phases).

But a total lunar eclipse seems a little different to me. It's one of those events that can be reported in such a way that people don't know it's happening (personally I only ever saw mention of Saturday's eclipse, in passing, during weather reports on the BBC news) while, at the same time, is very obvious to the naked eye – if you were out and about on Saturday night you'd be hard pushed not to notice that the Moon was full but wasn't bright and was a very strange colour.

I wonder what Rich's bouncer was really thinking. I wonder what ideas had gone through his mind. I wonder what possible reasons he'd entertained. I wonder how many other people were in the same position last Saturday, faced with something out of the ordinary, something impossible to ignore, something needing an explanation. I wonder what hypotheses they entertained.

1 comment:

Rich said...

"It's not uncommon for people to think that the Earth's shadow is responsible for the Moon's phases."

Me included, until last weekend when I saw the eclipse, realized this couldn't be possible and sought out the true explanation.

In Manchester it was a very strange night indeed because the sky was clear. It doesn't happen here often and to happen on the night of a Lunar eclipse is extremely fortunate.

If the bouncer was Manchester born and raised he may never have witnessed anything like this before - it's normal to see discolouration of the Moon here but it's always caused by clouds. I think what frightened him was that he saw something he expected to be caused by clouds but didn't see any clouds.

For someone with strong religious beliefs (I'm not trying to be racist, but I have observed that a significant proportion of black people in Manchester are very religious) it could easily look like something he'd been taught about end times.