Author Topic: Lunar eclipses' signification  (Read 1878 times)

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Lunar eclipses' signification
« on: May 16, 2003, 12:20:31 AM »
Humanityís scientific understanding of celestial events has evolved and deepened over the centuries, but eclipses still retain their early mystique.

Native Californians sang and prayed to stave off any potential disaster that might come from the temporary disappearance of a full moon.

Ancient Babylonians viewed an eclipse as a sign the gods were angry with their king and would appoint a temporary royal successor to smooth things over.

Itís unlikely Coachella Valley locals will consider tonightís total lunar eclipse a cue to pray for their lives or instigate recall elections.

But that doesnít mean Southern Californians still wonít be impressed by the first visible eclipse here since January 2000.

"Eclipses are wonderful," said Bruce Strathdee, 54, of Palm Desert.

Strathdee, a dentist by day and skywatcher by night, plans to join a crowd to view the eclipse from the Coachella Valley Preserve in Thousand Palms.

"It is right there, democratically, for everybody," Strathdee said of the lunar eclipse, which is one of the most accessible events of the night sky. "It kind of keeps astronomy on the minds of people."

Californians will miss part of the eclipse because the early stages will occur before nightfall.

But experts say Coachella Valley skies will be sufficiently dark by about 8:40 p.m. for locals to experience peak viewing time, which will last until about 9:20 p.m.

"It should certainly be visible by then," said Robert C. Victor, a retired astronomer who lives in Palm Springs.

Bruce Gottlieb, spokesman for the Astronomical Society of the Desert, said the eclipse will be visible from 7:40 to just after 10:15 p.m.

"It is going to look huge on the horizon," he said of the early stages. "You want to watch it cover up and then start to uncover."

Centuries of study make it possible for scientists to understand the physical events behind astronomical phenomena, even predicting the days and hours of future events years in advance.

Nevertheless, the upcoming lunar eclipse retains some of the mystique similar events held for earlier people.

Mark Macarro, 39, of Temecula said as the moon fades to black tonight heíll think about how his Southern California ancestors related to the Earth and heavens.

Macarro, chairman of the Pechanga Band of Luiseno Indians, said modern astronomy scientifically validates aboriginal views on the link between Earth and sky.

Moon cycles and life cycles were intertwined, they believed. The rarity of an eclipse could portend a world out of balance, Macarro said.

"They would beat the ground with sticks until the eclipse ended and then everything was better again," Macarro said.

He cited the moonís effect on ocean tides and animal behavior as evidence native Californians were right to recognize that celestial events impact life on Earth.

"They didnít have these beliefs for nothing," Macarro said. "I think folks need to step away from just the numbers of it and these things can be seen."

Ed Krupp, director of Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, said California Indians werenít the only culture to consider an eclipse a disruption in daily life.

People in China and other aboriginal cultures had similar beliefs.

He suggested modern people may benefit by viewing the eclipse as an opportunity to consider their place in the universe.

"People often forget to look at the sky," Krupp said. "The sky reminds us that there is, in fact, a planet that we occupy."