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Episode 163 - Modern Eclipse Lunacy, Part 1

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Recap: This past eclipse on August 21, 2017, was perhaps one of the most-hyped and most-viewed solar eclipses in human history. As with any such mass-sighted event, pseudoscience is bound to rear its ugly head. In this episode, I address doom and gloom, earthquake predictions, astrologic predictions, Planet X predictions, and other topics related to the eclipse.

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Episode Summary

Overview: First, I'm back. More on that after the main segment. Second, with a topic like this, I know some of you are probably thinking, "Why is he doing this? The eclipse is over, and lots of other skeptical podcasts talked about eclipse myths. What new thing could Dr. Stu possibly add??"

My response to that question is that you should never under-estimate humans' capacity to be stupid. Or, to recompose myself since I pride myself in generally being even-handed, you should never under-estimate humans' capacity to read into patterns, to make patterns up, or to use things that are rare to promote their own pet ideas and be subject to confirmation bias.

But more on that in a moment.

I want to first talk a bit about the solar eclipse that just happened a little over a week ago as this episode goes out. Branded by some as "The Great American Eclipse" because it passed across the entire continental United States, and pretty much everyone in North America could see at least a partial eclipse, this eclipse probably got more hype that any other eclipse in history simply because of how accessible it was to people.

It had been on my calendar since 2009, and I drove to Wyoming to see it. It was my first total solar eclipse, and it was awesome. Seriously, if you have the ability to go to see a total solar eclipse in the future, do it. Even 99% of totality is nothing like 100% totality. On the Facebook page for this podcast, Paul described it as the greatest event in his life. I personally wouldn't describe it as the greatest event of my life, but it is definitely up there as one of the neatest things I've seen. For me, better than when we got the green beacon back from New Horizons that it survived its encounter with Pluto. Being a bit of a shutterbug, I took lots of photos and while I'm still processing them all, I posted some of my best ones on the Facebook page for the podcast, and it's the image on the blog page for this episode.

Having now seen it, I can also understand how and why ancient civilizations who did not understand the celestial mechanics behind it, could be scared by the event and think that it was a harbinger of doom, destruction, Tweetstorms, YouTube comment sections, and other unpleasant things.

Without looking at the sun, you really don't notice any change until the sun is at least half-covered by the moon. I didn't notice the landscape getting darker until the sun was maybe 80% covered, but my faithful traveling companion said he thought it was starting to get darker when it was around 60% covered. But then, as that last few percent of the sun goes behind the moon, it gets much darker, twilight-level darkness. Being in Wyoming, we heard cows mooing, two flocks of birds took off and flew in circles, and though I didn't notice a temperature drop, I heard from lots of other people that they did. Other stars and planets were visible for a few minutes, and literally, you can see a black splotch covering the sun which looks as though it's emitting last gasps of glowage from around the blackness, and streamers shooting off from it that you've never seen before but in today's CGI world could be alien energy beings trying to escape the blackness to safety.

And then just two minutes later - or about 2 minutes 28 seconds where I was - the bright disk of the sun reemerges and things return to normal. Except traffic, which took me 11 hours to get home instead of 3.75.

So I can understand why ancient people who didn't know what was going on would be worried. What I don't understand - or maybe begrudgingly do but am still surprisingly surprised by it - is that in today's society, we still have people who use eclipses for their own particular brand of pseudoscience.

Now, as I said a few minutes ago, plenty of other podcasts have done eclipse myths episodes in the last month or so. Skeptoid and The Reality Check being two that I listened to. I'm not going to cover much of anything that they did. Instead, I'm going to discuss some more of the fringe stuff that's been bandied around on paranormal late-night radio programs and other venues. This is also a good topic to return from the summer 2017 hiatus with because I'm going to lean heavily on topics I've already covered before, such as astrology and syzygy earthquakes.

This is a Part 1 because - now, I know it's hard to believe - but there's a lot of different kinds of crazy out there.

Eye Protection

The first topic though is really no laughing matter, and despite pretty much every single outlet telling people not to look directly at the sun, people still do it. Including a particularly famous person who lives in Washington, D.C., who already has an odd skin coloration.

But seriously, don't do it. While you won't go blind if you just glance at the sun without eye protection, you can very easily do permanent damage to your eyes if you look at the sun for any longer than that briefest of glances.

But from not wearing any eye protection to trying to get eye protection, people still missed the mark. In the week after the eclipse, people were showing up to emergency rooms in California with eye problems because they put sunscreen in their eyes, thinking that would let them look at the eclipse. No, I'm not joking, I wish I were. The thinking was likely that the product says "sunscreen," so it should protect my eyes if I look at the sun. This is of course despite the product label saying you should not ingest it nor get it in your eyes. With that said, this comes from one report, and it is possible that it's not true; some people are claiming that it's a hoax.

But, from people not listening to advice from, well, everyone, and not wearing eye protection to people wearing the wrong eye protection, scammers tried to cash in on the eclipse, too. In the weeks leading up to the eclipse, numerous stories hit the news about glasses that claimed to be suitable for viewing the sun but were, in fact, not. They were not dark enough and could do serious damage if used. Part of the issue for eye damage with the sun is that your retina does not contain pain receptors. So, it will happily burn away while you feel no pain.

And so, in this first and briefest of sub-topics of modern eclipse myths, the fact is that looking for any prolonged period of time at the sun's disk can and almost certainly will cause eye damage, but we have people not believing it, people using products fairly stupidly to try to protect their eyes, and the seedy underbelly of civilization trying to profit from selling products that, if used as directed, WILL cause harm.

With all that in mind, what you CAN do during a total solar eclipse is look at the sun without eye protection. What's visible when the moon is blocking out the photosphere is the solar corona which is many, many orders of magnitude fainter than the photosphere, or "disk" of the sun. The outer parts of the corona, which I captured in exposures of around 1 second, based on some rough math of my filters and other camera settings, was around 10,000,000 times fainter than the disk of the sun.

Portend of (Generic) Doom

Moving on, or perhaps moving back, we have the idea that eclipses are signs in the heavens that your deity-of-choice is mad at you or is going to cause something bad to happen or is warning you that something bad will happen. I don't want to talk too much about this because it gets specifically into that ancient stuff I said that I wasn't going to talk about. But, there is one person who deserves mention here, and that's Mark Biltz.

Mark Biltz is the founder of El Shaddai Ministries in Washington state, and you may remember him from the whole Blood Moons "thing" from a few years ago. I refer you to Episode 85 for a lot more on that and on him, and also a bit in Episode 131.

Back then, I pointed out that, if you wanted to put it as kindly as possible, Biltz "bent" the truth and facts to fit his narrative, he hid his previous statements when they were shown to be clearly wrong or exaggerations, and he made much ado about nothing.

On April 11, 2017, he was on Coast to Coast AM doing the exact same thing, except this time it was with the total solar eclipse of August 2017 rather than four lunar eclipses spanning two years. In the interview, he claimed that we will see major wars break out, that they would definitely involve Israel, and they would potentially involve Syria, North Korea, Russia, and the United States.

While it's too early to say if any war will break out in the next year, he also stated that total solar eclipses marked the end and beginning of World War I. That's something really easy to check. Keep in mind that solar eclipses can happen twice per year, and often happen at least once per year, even if they're not total solar eclipses. Word War I is generally agreed to have started on July 28 of 1914 and ended November 11 of 1918. There was a solar eclipse in 1914, but it was a month later, August 21. So no, a total solar eclipse did not mark the start of World War I, it marked the 24th day of it. Similarly, there was a total solar eclipse in 1918, but it was on June 8 and it crossed the United States, not Europe. That was 5 months before the end of World War I. There was an annular eclipse on December 3 that year, much closer to November 11, so I'm not sure why he didn't highlight that one.

More evidence he cherry-picked stuff and just went with high-probability hits is that in a World Net Daily article discussing his August 2017 eclipse statements, he claimed various things happening on the first of the Hebrew calendar's month of Elul, and the April 8, 2024 eclipse happening on the anniversary of the dedication of Moses tabernacle.

Okay, fine. But keep in mind a few things here. Two in particular. First, as I discussed in episode 85, the Hebrew calendar is a lunar calendar, meaning that the first of every month must be a new moon, meaning that you can ONLY have solar eclipses on the first of the month. So it's no surprise that any solar eclipse will happen on the first of the month. The second thing to remember is that there's a lot of stuff that's happened that people give varying levels of importance to in the rather ancient Jewish religion. Just as there's a saint for every day in the Catholic religion, you can find something important that did happen, or is claimed to have happened, on pretty much every day of the Hebrew calendar. More-so if it's the first, 8th, 15/16th, or around the 24th, as those coincide with important phases of the moon, too.

So I can end this segment much as I did episode 85, having shown again that Mark Biltz is, in my opinion, bilking the public by milking the eclipse with high-probability events, or events that no one will remember he claimed, and predictions that he may even try to erase from the internet if they don't happen.

Astrology and Alleged Psychics

Next up is astrology. I listened to what several astrologers claimed would happen with this eclipse, and, to be perfectly honest, it was so much of the same that I could barely pay attention. The eclipse is good for people, the eclipse is bad for people. It only affects people in the path of totality, it affects everyone who can see any part of it. No astrologer I listened to said the same thing, and it was all just as vague as usual.

So, I wrote nothing down, except from Mark Lerner, who's a favorite of George Noory's based on how often Mark is on. Mark claimed three things in particular, one that's vague, one that I know didn't happen based on anecdotes, and one that I know didn't happen based on recorded history. The first is that he said various calamities COULD happen because Mars reaches the eclipse point in the sky a few days after the eclipse, and Mars is activated by Mercury. As with any prediction set, "calamity could happen" is about as useful as homeopathy.

He also claimed that Mercury would be in retrograde during the eclipse, and when Mercury's in retrograde that means electronic devices won't work. I know from personal experience this wasn't an issue during the eclipse because every piece of electronics that I was using operated just fine -- that includes four cameras, a drone, a tablet, and a car. Yes, I had a lot of equipment.

And, he claimed that the stock market COULD be affected by the eclipse with lots of panic buying and selling. Which ... didn't happen. In my book, when these claimed psychics or generic "prognosticators" say "COULD," I convert that to "WILL." Otherwise, there's absolutely no way to pin them down because they always get out of their prediction due to that wiggle word.

Some people, though, make it easier for me and come right out and say it. On August 6, 2017, Elizabeth Joyce was on Coast to Coast AM and she claims to be a psychic and energetic healer. She also claims to have a "remarkable track record for predictions." I don't know if that's meant to be remarkably good or remarkably bad, but she stated that the eclipse would cause a massive earthquake in the Mississippi Valley. First off, the "Mississippi Valley" isn't really a thing. As opposed to for example the Ohio River Valley where I grew up. Second, it didn't happen anyway, as in a major earthquake did not happen near the Mississippi area during nor within a few days of the eclipse.


Next, in a quick segment, are earthquakes. This was the same as astrology, pretty much. The main person to whom I listened for earthquakes was John Hogue, a claimed Nostradamus scholar and psychic in his own right, and fortunately thoroughly debunked in an episode of Penn & Teller's show about Taurus Excrement. Hogue did what skeptics and listeners of this show should be pretty familiar with: He cherry picked a few events, drew temporal correlations, and said that correlation means causation.

In particular, he drew a correlation between an eclipse that passed over much of Europe on August 11, 1999, and a devastating earthquake that occurred in Turkey just 6 days later. That earthquake was magnitude 7.4 and killed 17,127 people, making it the deadliest earthquake of the decade. However, it was by no means the largest earthquake of the decade, for just one month later there was a 7.7 magnitude quake in Taiwan. A year later a 7.9 quake in Sumatra. A decade before, a magnitude 6.8 quake happened in Armenia, killing an estimated 25,000, but in 1990 in Iran there was a 7.4 quake that killed about 40,000 people. None of these happened near - either temporally or geographically - a solar eclipse.

Ignoring facts, he went on to claim that his cherry-picked correlations would mean that large earthquakes would happen across the New Madrid fault, in the Yellowstone caldera, and/or the Cascadia subduction zone, and that the earthquake(s) could happen any time between 8 and 18 months after the solar eclipse.

And so, not only is he cherry picking and using the correlation = causation fallacy, but he did just was astrologers and other prognosticators often do, casting a huge net in time of over a year such that he can claim any event, which is a reasonably high probability anyway, will be a hit for him.

More specifically, Expat, a twice-guest on this show, tracks the predictions of Robert Morningstar, who also predicted the eclipse would cause earthquakes over the New Madrid fault system in the middle of the United States within 36 hours of totality. As Expat showed in his blog post to which I will link in the shownotes, this prediction, as with all of Robert Morningstar's predictions, also failed.

But in true pseudoscientific fashion, Morningstar claimed his predictions came true. "How?" you might ask. Well, there were earthquakes in the Philippines and Indonesia, three days later. Remember, he said it would be within 1.5 days, in the middle of the US. He also claimed a hit because there were a series of small earthquakes in the San Andreas fault system -- the one in California -- when what would be a surprising event is if there WERE no earthquakes along the San Andreas.

Before I move on to the next topic, there is a potentially real reason to expect increased earthquakes during a new moon or a full moon, and that's due to syzygy, a very high-scoring word in Scrabble. Syzygy is when astronomical objects line up, which happens during new and full moons between the sun, moon, and Earth. But, as I explored in Episode 50, we've actually looked to see if there's any statistical increase in earthquake events during syzygy, and the answer is "No."

Planet X

A very quick mention should go to Planet X proponents. Marshall Masters, of whom I've now addressed in Episodes 109 and 146 and shown his repeatedly failed predictions, used the eclipse during his Coast to Coast AM appearance on August 7 to claim that people may be able to see Planet X in the sky when the sun is blocked out by the moon. I haven't heard from him since that. He also did not make a specific prediction in the episode for when Planet X would come by -- see Episode 146 for more on that.

In general though, several people reported photographing Planet X during the eclipse. In all cases, it's very simple: Lens reflections. A camera lens itself is made of multiple pieces of glass or plastic or other material, and even though they may have coatings to try to minimize reflections, reflections can still occur. Now, put another piece of glass or plastic or other material that's somewhat transparent in front of them, and you can get more reflections. Many people tried to photograph the eclipse with their mobile devices through eclipse glasses and simply got reflections of the sun off their lens, the eclipse glasses, and then back into the lens to record a second image offset from the sun. AKA, what some people say is Planet X.

NASA Miscalculated It

For the last sub-topic for this Part 1, I move on to a particularly "out there" prediction about the eclipse. This one comes from Sean David Morton, an incredibly misogynistic man who is in the sovereign citizen movement and, after being convicted of several counts of fraud against the United States government, went on the lam and as I'm recording this, was picked up just about two weeks ago by the US Marshall Service and is now in jail. (Both Expat and I have been following his legal shenanigans for awhile.)

But, it was Art Bell who made Sean famous in the mid-1990s as a claimed psychic, and during his several-month stint in hiding earlier this year, he went on Kerry Cassidy's YouTube channel to make more things up. Sorry for putting the cart before the horse on this one, but I honestly find the man pretty detestable so it's hard for me to be somewhat neutral in my reporting of his claims. Which were: [Project Camelot interview with Sean David Morton, August 2017, starting 31:07]

"And look, I'm just throwing this out there, I don't know why, but NASA made an announcement ... that the— that they miscalculated the path of the eclipse. Well it— because the path of the eclipse that runs across the entire width of the United States — now they're saying their original calculations that instead of the eclipse line being here, that they missed it b-between 70 to 90 miles, which means all these people that thought they were going to be right underneath the eclipse and get the full totality of the eclipse are only going to get like 99.5% of it. Well, how can NASA do that? That's a— that's a— [unintelligible] I mean we've had it [the projection / path] for years, I mean since NASA was actually founded on my birthday by the way, October 1, 1958, it uh, uh, they know where the sun is, they know where the moon is, they know where the Earth is. How can they miscalculate by as much as 90 miles the path of this eclipse across the United States? I don't know [unintelligible] better minds than me should figure this out ... . You mind if I throw some crazy out there?"

He proceeded to link this to the Mandela Effect (see Episode 155); CERN's Large Hadron Collider and something about quantum computers doing something (see Episode 64 for quantum nonsense); repeating what we already heard from astrologers, Planet Xers, and earthquake prognosticators that basically anything bad within 2.5 years of the eclipse is because of the eclipse; that it will pass over "every single red state that voted for Trump" (clearly leaving things out like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Texas, Arizona, and many others, and ignoring Illinois which went for Hillary); more astrology and earthquakes, relating them to Edgar Cayce; and also to magnetic pole shifts (see Episode 25 for more on that).

Hopefully needless to say, none of those are real, and a magnetic pole shift would in no way affect the position of the sun, Earth, and moon such that an eclipse path would be wrong. As with most other hucksters, Sean incorrectly conflated the magnetic pole with the geographic pole. Also hopefully needless to say, for all of you - and me - who saw the total eclipse, the eclipse path was correct.

Now, what did shift from earlier predictions, is the exact edge of the totality path. Earlier in 2017, like, February to March -ish, I remember seeing updated maps of the edge and that's because the moon is not a perfect sphere. Neither is Earth. See episode 145 and feedback in episode 146 (I think) for more on that. Once you start to take into account the moon's true limb, as seen from Earth that day, AND the distance from sea level that any given location along the totality path really is, the totality path could be off by as much as half a mile. Not 70-90.

Think of it this way for the moon: Let's say you have a massive gouge out of the limb of the moon. That gouge is not going to block any light from the sun. So, if the sun would be visible from your location on Earth through that gouge, then you're not in the path of totality, even though you might have been if the moon had a nice smooth limb.

Or, think of it this way for Earth: If you're on top of a mountain, you will be closer to the moon, and more inside the narrowing shadow cone that's cast onto Earth's surface. Meaning that if you were just outside the shadow zone before, you may now be inside of it because you're a bit closer to the moon than you would be if Earth were a perfect sphere.

Another reason why the shadow path was not precisely correct is that the sun's diameter is slightly smaller than the value used in making most of the eclipse maps. The International Astronomical Union, like all bureaucratic bodies, can take a ridiculously long time to change their minds about something. In 1976, they approved a formal radius of the sun of 696,000 km, or 432,500 miles. But it's actually 212 miles or about 342 km smaller. The eclipse maps used the IAU size, but because the sun is slightly smaller, the shadow zone is slightly larger. However, in the article I read on this on, they were saying that the actual size of the sun is slightly larger than the IAU definition depending on the wavelength of light, meaning that the shadow zone would be slightly smaller. But, I looked at the IAU definitions, which I'll link to in the shownotes, and I think the article is wrong. BUT regardless, the point is that if you change these numbers a tiny bit, you get a ± eclipse width of about half a mile or so.

Meaning, that whenever you see a published eclipse map, don't be half-assed about it, get as close to the center line as you can, don't think that just inside the edge is going to be that great. Also, on the center line, you get more time in totality than you will on the edge.

Part 1 Wrap-Up

With that all said and done, we come to the wrap-up of Part 1 of this mini-series. The eclipse was really neat. It was very hyped.

As with any such event that receives that kind of attention, pseudoscientists hawking their own brand of crazy are bound to come out of the woodwork and try to piggyback on that event to convince people to follow them. The eclipse, obviously, was no exception.

With that in mind, there are at least two more parts of this that I'd like to address, that of the Flat Earth proponents and, perhaps of course, Richard C. Hoagland. To give you a bit of a taste, Flat Earth proponents tended to claim that it was not the Moon that eclipsed the sun, but the Hindu god Rahu. I'm assuming that none of them tried to photograph the eclipse like I did and clearly saw the moon in front of the sun. Richard Hoagland claimed various things, perhaps the one closest to something I've addressed before was that shadow bands that appear just before and just after an eclipse are caused by the towering glass structures on the limb of the moon that he's talked about for decades.

More on both of those in a future episode.

Correction ...

Oh, and before I go, a small correction. Already. So all of you folks who e-mailed me after Episode 85 calling me a bad Jew Boy can keep your e-mails to yourselves this time. I checked with my Faithful Traveling Companion, and I was slightly incorrect when I was talking about the Jewish / Hebrew calendar. It *IS* a lunar calendar. BUT, it *STILL* requires someone to visually sight the new moon, and they account for not being able to see tiny slivers. So, this last eclipse was on the 29th of Av, and even in Israel it was the beginning of the 30th of Av. So Biltz was wrong again.

And not only that, but the eclipse in the US in 2024 is on the 29th of Adar II, though in Israel it will be the first of Nissan®™.

So ... Biltz was wrong about pretty much every date he mentioned. I was correct that theoretically the calendar is lunar, but things float a bit because they haven't gotten with the modern times of 5000 years ago when even the ancient Sumerians were able to accurately know when the new moon was, but that's a separate issue for a completely different podcast.

Provide Your Comments:

Comments to date: 2. Page 1 of 1. Average Rating:

carl pajak   wasilla ak usa tera

7:09am on Wednesday, September 20th, 2017 

Glad to have you back

Dick   Central Florida

10:20am on Saturday, September 2nd, 2017 

With the solar eclipse having come and gone, believers in an impending apocalypse suspect that September will mark the beginning of the end via the infamous Planet X.
Astronomer and author David Meade, who previously warned that last week's celestial event was a harbinger of doom, says that next month will see the arrival of the long-feared 'hidden' planet to fulfill that prophecy.
The rogue researcher cites not only Biblical passages for his contention that the End Times are upon us, but also alleged clues hidden in the construction of the Great Pyramid of Giza.
According to Meade, there are two passageways found within the pyramid which will align with the star Regulus as well as the planet Jupiter, respectively.
What worries him is that this alignment just happens to occur at the same time that celestial events seem to match a warning contained in the Book of Revelations.
Taken together, Meade suspects that all of the proverbial signs are there that the start of Armageddon will... read more »

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