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Blood Moon 2018: Longest Total Lunar Eclipse of the Century
The longest total lunar eclipse of the 21st century takes place this Friday, July 27.
The total phase of the “blood moon” eclipse of July 27 will last 1 hour and 43 minutes, during which Earth’s natural satellite will turn a spectacular red or ruddy-brown color. From start to finish, the entire celestial event will last nearly 4 hours.
The eclipse won’t be visible to viewers in North America, except via webcasts. But observers in much of Africa, the Middle East, southern Asia and the Indian Ocean region will get an eyeful, given cooperative weather, according to lunar scientist Noah Petro, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
July’s total lunar eclipse occurs on the same day the planet Mars reaches its opposition, when it will shine at its best in the night sky. This month, Mars will be at its closest to Earth since 2003. After opposition, when Mars will be brightest, it will reach that closest point on July 31.
Unlike with solar eclipses, you need no special equipment to observe lunar eclipses. These latter events, which occur when the moon passes into Earth’s shadow, are safe to view directly with the naked eye, telescopes or binoculars.
The moon turns deep red or reddish brown during eclipses, instead of going completely dark. That’s because some of the sunlight going through Earth’s atmosphere is bent around the edge of our planet and falls onto the moon’s surface. Earth’s air also scatters more shorter-wavelength light (in colors such as green or blue); what’s left is the longer-wavelength, redder end of the spectrum.
A Full Moon
This eclipse will take place on Tu B’Av, the 15th day of the Jewish calendar’s month of Av. It is interesting to note that a lunar eclipse or a “blood moon” can by definition only occur on the 15th day of a Jewish month, i.e. when there is a full moon.
Ordinarily, the Talmud tells us that a lunar eclipse is considered a bad sign for the Jews, since we calculate the months according to the lunar cycle. However, a full moon is considered to be a positive sign for the very same reason.
In the end, we are reminded of the words of our sages that “when Jews perform the will of GOD, they need not worry about omens or celestial phenomenon. Thus says the LORD, ‘Do not be frightened by the signs of the heavens.’”
The Full Moon and the 15th of Av
The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out an interesting connection between the moon and the 15th of Av. On the one hand, the mystics explain that the underlying significance of the day is that it is the first full moon after the saddest day on the Jewish calendar, the 9th of Av, which marks the destruction of the Holy Temple. Thus, since we calculate the months according to the lunar cycle, and since the Jewish nation is compared to the moon, we celebrate this significant day.
And yet, if one thinks about it, the 15th day of the month actually marks the time when the moon starts waning. If we were to take a lesson from the moon at the beginning of the month, it would be to always add in light—but what lesson can we learn from the moon on the 15th of the month, when it starts decreasing?
To answer this, we must note that there is a difference between the incompleteness of the moon during the time it waxes and the time it wanes. In the first half of the month when the moon waxes, its incompleteness is a sign that something is still missing in our work to bring light both to ourselves and to the world around us. Once we reach the middle of the month, the full moon is a sign that we’ve reached our full brightness, both in our own service to G‑d as well as in bringing light to the world.
There is a catch, however. The bigger and brighter a person gets, the more the ego begins to flourish. We know that true spirituality can only rest in those who are humble of spirit. Thus, once we have reached the middle of the month, it is now time to work on the ego. We don’t, heaven forbid, diminish our efforts to make the world a brighter place, but we do work to diminish our feelings of spiritual superiority and self-importance. It is this humility that is symbolized by the waning of the moon in the second half of the month.
This correlates with the Talmud’s statement that from the 15th of Av and on, the nights start getting longer, and it is an opportune time to increase in one’s learning of Torah at nighttime. This can be understood metaphorically as well: increase in one’s feeling of humility while learning the Bible (Torah), for it is only through humility that one can really reach the essence of the Word of GOD.