People in the Western Hemisphere who look to the sky Friday night will witness a relatively rare lunar event: a second new moon in a single calendar month.
Colloquially, it’s known as a “black moon,” and it’s called such because, well, there won’t be much to see. During a new moon phase, the moon is invisible to the naked eye because it’s passing through the same elliptical plane as the sun, with its illuminated side facing away from Earth.
Friday’s black moon, the first since 2014, is an utterly harmless celestial coincidence. But like its counterparts the blood moon, the super moon, the blood super moon, and so on — all of which have made their way into the popular lexicon in recent years — the black moon has become, for some, a harbinger of the apocalypse.
How, exactly, will the second darkening of Earth’s only natural satellite in a 30-day period usher in the destruction of life as we know it? Unclear. But some people have taken the bait.
“When you have anything that’s the least bit foreboding in the night sky, the media jumps on it,” Ian O’Neill, an astrophysicist and author, told the Los Angeles Times. “Social media has a huge part to play. These things go viral.”
First, the science.
A black moon occurs when two new moons appear in the same month. This month’s first new moon came on Sept. 1, and its second will come Friday evening, rising just after 8 p.m. Eastern time.
Black moons occur about every 32 months, according to Joe Rao of Space.com. The last was in March 2014, and there won’t be another in the Western Hemisphere until July 2019. One lunar cycle is 29.53 days, just shy of a month on Earth, meaning there’s usually a full moon and a new moon each month. A “blue moon” is the nickname for two full moons in a calendar month.
Compared to other lunar events, the black moon is “somewhat unusual,” Rao said. Blue moons happen every two to three years. Super moons — defined as a full moon coming during the moon’s closest approach to Earth — happen four to six times a year. By contrast, super moon eclipses, such as the one that came last fall, happen every couple decades. And lunar tetrads — a series of four total eclipses occurring six months apart — are extremely rare, sometimes occurring centuries apart.
What does any of this have to do with the apocalypse? Nothing. But as the public has become increasingly interested in the moon’s idiosyncrasies, so have the prophets of doom.
Last year saw the completion of a rare blood moon tetrad, with four total lunar eclipses occurring in an 18-month period, spawning an array of theories about how it signaled the end of the world. One minister cited the rise of the Islamic State as evidence that the apocalypse was already on its way in. A series of books by Christian authors, one on a New York Times bestseller list, said it marked the second coming of Jesus. And one woman’s writings about the end of days even prompted an official response from the Church of Latter-day Saints.
This time around, the prophecies aren’t quite as widespread, but they’re every bit as extreme.
“Cancel your plans,” a headline on the Russian state-sponsored news outlet RT warns. “Rare black moon could mean end of world.”
Another story in Catholic Online asks, “Is Friday’s black moon a sign of the apocalypse?” The article quotes a Bible verse saying “the powers of heaven shall be shaken” during the dark of the moon, and warns that September’s black moon is cause for extra concern.
“Is this an omen of the end times,” the article says. “Maybe, but nobody really knows. … As Catholics, we are taught to always be prepared because we know not the hour.”
Even an otherwise scientific story in the New York Post starts with, “Don’t panic, but the moon is going to disappear.” The moon, of course, isn’t going to disappear; it’ll just be invisible to about half the world’s population for a day or so.
Others take a more benign — but equally mystical — view of the coming black moon. The fashion website Refinery29 says there’s a “deeper meaning” behind the event, urging readers to “start completely anew.” The pagan-witchcraft website Witchipedia, on the other hand, advises that the black moon is “a powerful time for banishing and binding,” but says that some people believe “no magic should be worked on the black moon.” And David Wolfe, a self-described “Indiana Jones of the superfoods and longevity universe,” warns that a “darker side of humanity” will appear and that people can expect their gender identities to shift on Friday.
Other theories abound on social media:
Space.com, however, says it’ll be a great night for stargazing: