On Jewish Holiday We Will See Eclipse, Full Moon and Comet

“He counteth the number of the stars; He giveth them all their names.” Psalms 147:4 (The Israel Bible™)


This Friday night will bring together three prophetic significant astronomical events in an astonishing astral confluence arriving on a Jewish arboreal holiday with lunar roots.

Overnight, a penumbra lunar eclipse, the aptly named “snow moon”, and the passing of a comet will all appear within hours of each other. “Snow moon” is the traditional Native American name for the full moon in February, since this is typically the month with the most snow and the coldest temperatures.

A penumbra eclipse occurs when the moon moves through the outer part of Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses only occur during a full moon, but a penumbra eclipse is a relatively rare phenomenon, representing about a third of all eclipses. It creates subtle effect, making the moon seem just a bit darker.

A few hours after the eclipse, Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, which has been visible by telescope for the last two months, will make its closest approach to the Earth. It will pass within 7.5 million miles of our planet, returning again in 5.25 years.

Friday night is also the holiday of Tu B’Shvat, the fifteenth of the Hebrew month of Shvat. This is the day named in the Talmud as the ‘new year of the trees.’

Comets have a special role in Jewish literature in the end of days. The Zohar, the foundational work of Jewish mysticism, described this in detail.

At that time Melech Hamoshiach (Messiah the King) will awaken and go out from Gan Eden (Garden of Eden), from the place called Kan Tzippor, and will be revealed in the Galil (Galilee)…. A star will arise from the East side, flaming with all colors, and seven other stars will go around this star and make a war with it on all sides three times a day for 70 days, and all the people of the world will see. Zohar

The moon and eclipses have a more subtle role to play in Judaism. Ira Machefsky is an amateur astronomer with 60 years of experience who runs stargazing tours in Mizpeh Ramon, a town perched on a huge crater in the Negev desert. As an astronomer in the Holy Land, Machefsky has a tendency to see the divine import of heavenly events.

“The Talmud states that a Likui (eclipse) of the sun is a bad sign for the world, but a lunar eclipse is a bad sign for Israel,” Machefsky told Breaking Israel News.

To what can this be compared? To a human being who made a banquet for his servants and put up for them a lamp. When he became angry with them he said to his servant, ‘Take away the lamp from them, and let them sit in the dark’. Talmud Bavli Sukkot 29a

“Of course, Israel isn’t ruled by astrology,” Machefsky pointed out, quoting the continuation of the passage.

But when Israel fulfill the will of the Omnipresent, they need have no fear of all these [omens] as it is said, Thus saith the HaShem,’ Learn not the way of the nations, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven.

“Since it is only a penumbra eclipse of the moon, perhaps it portends something that will only be slightly bad,” suggested Machefsky.

He explained that the full moon on Friday night does not represent winter for the Jews, but signals the approaching spring.

“Judaism measures the months by moons,” Machefsky told Breaking Israel News. “The full moon is the middle of the month and this month it is the holiday of Tu B’Shvat.”

The holiday also has astrological significance, marking the midpoint between winter and spring. “This full moon on Tu B’Shvat is the Jewish version of Groundhog Day,” explained Machefsky. “It is a cross-quarter holiday. It signals the halfway point for the quarter of the year. In this case, with six weeks of winter behind us and six weeks still remaining, it marks the beginning of the end of winter. It is halfway between the winter solstice, on December 21, and the spring equinox, on March 20.

“This full moon is the tipping point when we can start looking forward to the trees blooming,” he concluded.

A very deep penumbral lunar eclipse will take place on February 11, 2017, with the greatest eclipse at 00:45 UTC. It will be visible throughout most of eastern South America, eastern Canada, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Africa, and western Asia.

Penumbral eclipses are subtle and hard to observe. They, like other lunar eclipses, occur whenever the Earth passes between the Moon and Sun, such that it obscures the Sun’s light and casts a shadow onto the Moon’s surface.

About 35% of all eclipses are of the penumbral type which are very difficult to detect, even with a telescope. Another 30% are partial eclipses which are easy to see with the unaided eye. The final 35% or so are total eclipses, and these are quite extraordinary events to behold.

In a penumbral eclipse, the Moon passes through an outer region of the Earth’s shadow called the penumbra. This is the outer part of the Earth’s shadow, in which the Earth appears to cover part of the Sun’s disk, but not all of it.

Penumbral lunar eclipse of February 11, 2017

Credit: NASA/F. Espenak

As a result, the Moon’s brightness will begin to dim, as it is less strongly illuminated by the Sun, but the whole of the Sun’s disk will remain illuminated to some degree. Although the Moon’s light dims considerably during a penumbral eclipse, this is only perceptible to those with very astute vision, or in carefully controlled photographs.

On February 11, the moon will begin to enter the Earth’s penumbra at 22:35 UTC. The greatest eclipse will occur at 00:45 and the moon will leave the Earth’s penumbra at 02:54 UTC. 

This is 4.4 days after the Moon reaches perigee, in the constellation Leo. The synodic month in which the eclipse takes place has a Brown Lunation Number of 1164.

The eclipse belongs to Saros 114 and is number 59 of 71 eclipses in the series. All eclipses in this series occur at the Moon’s ascending node. The Moon moves southward with respect to the node with each succeeding eclipse in the series and gamma decreases.

This is a very deep penumbral eclipse. It has a penumbral eclipse magnitude of 0.9884 and a penumbral eclipse duration of 259.2 minutes. Gamma has a value of -1.0255.

It will be visible throughout most of eastern South America, eastern Canada, the Atlantic Ocean, Europe, Africa, and western Asia.

The penumbral lunar eclipse of February 11, 2017 is followed two weeks later by a annular solar eclipse on February 26, 2017.