Passover, Lunar Eclipses, and Mature Distant Galaxies

From KHouse.Org

A total lunar eclipse will mark the first day of Passover in North America this year, starting shortly before midnight on the West Coast and continuing through the early morning hours of April 15th. This eclipse will be nice and loud, a great big red moon completely blocked from the sun’s direct light by the earth’s umbral shadow. The eclipse will hit its max at 3:45 am in Washington D.C. and a quarter to midnight in Anchorage, Alaska.

Passover is primed for lunar eclipses because it always takes place on a full moon, but this year another total lunar eclipse also marks the beginning of Sukkot on October 8th in a rare bit of excitement. What’s more, the same astronomical pattern will take place next year as well, with full blood moons on both Passover and Sukkot in 2015.

It may be nothing to take to heart. Lunar eclipses come along a regular basis, usually between 2 and 4 times per year, and quite often they have fallen together on the first days of Passover and Sukkot (so conveniently spaced six months apart on full moons).

Much of the time, however, these are penumbral lunar eclipses in which the moon only passes through outer part of the Earth’s shadow. A penumbral lunar eclipse is not particularly noticeable because it merely dims the moon. During a partial lunar eclipse, the moon breaks into the inner, umbral shadow of the earth – a clearly visible event. A total lunar eclipse offers the best show, as the moon passes completely into the earth’s inner shadow and turns a dark “blood” red color.

2014 and 2015 are a bit special, however, because the lunar eclipses these years form a “tetrad” in which four lunar eclipses in a row are total eclipses. Tetrads are fairly rare, though they still take place several times per century. The last tetrad was in 2003. Tetrads that offer blood moons on both Passover and Sukkot have also taken place in the past, but not often. In fact, according to NASA’s catalog of lunar eclipses, this particular set of coincidences took place just twice in the 20th century, in 1949–1950 and in 1967–1968. The next will take place in 2032–2033.

The rabbis say that coincidence is not a kosher word, and perhaps there’s something significant about astronomical patterns. After all, the Magi did see the Messiah’s star in the east and came to worship the baby Jesus because of it. It’s noteworthy that David Ben-Gurion formed the first government of the new State of Israel on March 8, 1949 and Israel was admitted into the United Nations on May 11, 1949, marking international recognition of Israel as a state. During the Six-Day War in 1967, Israel gained control of the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights and Sinai Peninsula. Israel has since relinquished control of the Sinai, Golan Heights and Gaza, but one wonders what lies in store for the little Jewish nation this year. Or in 2032… approximately 2000 years after Jesus’ resurrection.

Young Galaxies That Look Old

In other astronomical news, scientists are surprised to find relatively “young” galaxies deep in space looking much more mature than expected. Because the speed of light is finite (though very very fast), the deeper into space we look, the older the light we see coming our way. This means that directing our telescopes deep into space can be considered equivalent to gazing back in time.

In harsher humor, a meme on the Internet declares, “When you wish upon a star… you’re actually a few million years late according to astronomy. The star is dead. Just like your dreams.”

Astronomers hope that by studying distant galaxies, they can watch the formation of the young Universe, looking at the light from galaxies that may or may not even still exist.

Astronomers from Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne Australia expressed surprise recently, because they discovered “young” galaxies from the early Universe already wearing their big boy pants. Working within an international team of scientists, the researchers found galaxies 12 billion light years away that contained up to 100 billion stars, much larger and more mature than expected. At that point, the Universe was expected to have developed only 1.6 billion years after the Big Bang, and the astronomers would have expected to see young, newly forming galaxies.

The mature galaxies were found at a record-breaking distance of 12 billion light years, seen when the Universe was just 1.6 billion years old. Their existence at such an early time raises new questions about what forced them to grow up so quickly. The galaxies were detected using near-infrared wavelengths, and the researchers found a lot of red, which indicates older and not newly-forming stars.

“Fifteen years ago they were predicted not to even exist within the cosmological model favoured at the time,” said Professor Karl Glazebrook, Director of the Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing at Swinburne University of Technology. “In 2004 I wrote a paper on the discovery of such galaxies existing only three billion years after the Big Bang. Now, with improved technology we are pushing back to only 1.6 billion years, which is truly exciting.”

There are a variety of possible explanations for the unexpected results of the study. The red shift data may have been misinterpreted. The speed of light may have slowed down, and the ages of the galaxies may not be what the astronomers believe them to be. The explanation chosen by Macquarie University’s Dr Lee Spitler is a less volatile, however.

“While the Milky Way still forms new stars at a slow rate today, the galaxies we discovered must have formed very rapidly in a relatively ‘short’ time — roughly one billion years — with explosive rates of star-formation. These must have been several hundred times higher than in the Milky Way today,” Spitler said, according to Science Daily.

“This is the best evidence to date that these galaxies grew up in a hurry. People have reported ‘old’ galaxies before, but it was never clear until our data that they were actually ‘old.’ The excellent imaging products from the Magellan telescope allowed us to prove they are indeed ‘old.’”

We may be able to predict lunar eclipses and send men to the moon. Modern technology does an amazing job of allowing us to look through space and even back in time. But, the Universe still holds a wide variety of mysteries, and the future is a massive adventure waiting to be discovered.

Notes

  • Calendar For Year 1967 (Israel)
    — Time And Date
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