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Lunar eclipse: Astronomers dispel superstition about eating during the eclipse

Astronomical Society of India has invited those defying the belief during the 6 hour, 17 minute, 18 second long eclipse starting at 10:44 pm on July 27 -- the longest lunar eclipse this century -- to post photographs on social media with the hashtag: #EclipseEating.

science Updated: Jul 26, 2018 09:30 IST
Malavika Vyawahare
Malavika Vyawahare
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Lunar eclipse,Astronomers,Eclipse
A full moon is seen during a lunar eclipse in Beijing, China January 31, 2018. (Reuters File)

The Astronomical Society of India (ASI), a professional association for astronomers, has launching a campaign to counter one of the most enduring superstitions surrounding eclipses -- that one shouldn’t eat or drink during the celestial event.

ASI has invited those defying the belief during the 6 hour, 17 minute, 18 second long eclipse starting at 10:44 pm on July 27 -- the longest lunar eclipse this century -- to post photographs on social media with the hashtag: #EclipseEating.

“We are trying to dispel notions that eating during eclipses is harmful,” Aniket Sule, who heads the public outreach and education committee of ASI, said. “During eclipse, babas and gurus are quoted in the news saying “don’t eat”; we have to counter the narrative.”

They face an uphill task; centuries-old beliefs continue to persist and are sometimes propagated by astrologers, spiritual leaders and self-styled gurus.?The belief is centred on how food turns to poison during eclipses.

Sule said the roots of the superstition lay in the pre-electricity era when events like the solar or lunar eclipse meant darkness would descend on households. During these periods ,insects or other contaminants could spoil the food, so it was safer to discard whatever was left in the open.

Another superstition is that the passage of the moon from a full moon to no moon and then back to a full moon within hours interferes with the earth’s natural rhythms.

Astronomers disagree with the view. “It ‘s just a play of shadows, the sun, moon and earth don’t change their basic nature. There is no change in the rays of suns; it is the same thing if a person stood in the shadow of a building,” Sule said.

A lunar eclipse takes place when the earth comes between the sun and the moon. An umbral shadow is an area where the earth has blocked off all direct sunlight from reaching the moon. When it enters the totality phase, the moon is completely inside the earth’s shadow and acquires a reddish hue, prompting many to call it a ‘blood moon’. The total eclipse of the moon, when it is completely under the earth’s shadow, will last 1 hour and 43 minutes.

Pregnant women are warned against going out and eating and drinking for fear of adverse effects on the foetus. “It does not have a basis in medical science,” Anuradha Kapur, director and head of the gynaecology unit at the Max Hospital in Saket, New Delhi, said, “but all our patients are saying that they won’t step out during the eclipse.”

Kapur said doctors do not object to patients staying indoors, but she advises women to eat and drink normally to avoid weakness that could actually harm their unborn child.

The precaution to people not to view a solar eclipse with naked eyes doesn’t hold good for a lunar eclipse.

“It is perfectly all right to view the lunar eclipse with your naked eyes,” said Arvind Paranjpye, director of the Nehru Planetarium, in Mumbai. “For those who choose to be indoors, they might be able to catch a glimpse online. The planetarium plans to webcast live feed from a telescope,” he said. “We will take a call on the same day, depending on the weather. If it is too cloudy it won’t be possible.”

First Published: Jul 25, 2018 23:34 IST