A portion of the US population is getting nervous due to doomsayers spouting frightening rumors about the coming eclipse on April 8. Misinformation and bogus claims are rampant, particularly with the religious-minded, who regularly use world events to scare people back into the fold.

It’s as if we never had a solar eclipse before in the world!

Even though it sometimes feels like we’re regressing, we are in the 21st century. Eclipses have happened repeated, around the world, in the past century. They are predictable and explainable. We can factually document that catastrophes do not accompany them. Yet, here we are… with too many in the audience expecting some cataclysm in the wake of the moon shadow.

The reasons for this are complex and social. Most people still don’t understand nature and they succumb to social pressure to be fearful. Things that sound sciencey are convincing, whereas actual science gets ignored.

An eclipse occurred and nothing happened

A solar eclipse is when the moon passes in a specific alignment between the earth and the sun so that the sun’s light is blocked out for a short while. The shadow moves across the earth’s surface because the earth is turning and the moon is moving. There is nothing particularly dangerous about this condition (unless you aren’t expecting it).

The last solar eclipse in the US occurred on Aug 21, 2017. Self-styled prophet and Nostradamus superfan, John Hogue, self-published a book around that time suggesting that there would be great upheavals as totality passed over two seismic zones – the New Madrid Seismic Zone (NMSZ) and the Cascadia zone in the northwest. That didn’t happen. To hedge his bets, in case no earthquakes occurred, he also suggested the event was also an omen of bad times to come. We didn’t need an eclipse to signal that since in 2017 more than half the nation were already well aware of suffering through “interesting times”. No psychic powers were needed. I don’t think it’s reasonable to link the eclipse to the pandemic and wars, etc., years later, but being reasonable isn’t cool these days.

A solar eclipse in Hong Kong in July 2009 generated a rumor that a tsunami would occur. People were warned people to stay away from beaches.  Again, nothing happened.

These ideas about catastrophes related to eclipses didn’t die even though none of the predictions ever came true.

The buildup

Hullabaloo around the April 8 event is getting louder as we get closer. At first we heard of cities and states in the path of totality declaring states of emergency so extra funds could be used for deploying responders. This is not because of the potential for natural catastrophe but for the possibility for a human disaster. Visitors who want to view the event will be heading into areas that can’t handle the volume. Officials guessed that overcrowding, traffic, potential violent incidents, injuries, and stresses on utilities and other necessary services might be a concern. So they are preparing.

There are rumors of power cuts or outages during the eclipse. This is from a rumor that solar cells will suddenly stop producing during the darkening. I’m always amazed that people think the smart people who run complex systems haven’t thought of this.

From the NY Times:

“I don’t think anything is as predictable as an eclipse,” said Pedro Pizarro, president and chief of executive of Edison International, a California power company, and the chairman of the Edison Electric Institute, a utility trade organization. “You can prepare.”

No one will lose power.

There are so many superstitions about eclipses – really dumb ones persist, such as the idea that it’s dangerous to be out during the event, particularly for pregnant women. It’s true that animals do act strange because they get confused about the sudden night fall but, again, there is nothing dangerous about it.

Storms are unrelated to the eclipse

The temporary diminishment of solar radiation will cause darkness, a drop in temperature and maybe small changes in wind speed and direction because of the reduction in convection. The cooling only happens for a few minutes. There is no connection to thunderstorms. A misappropriated weather forecast on March 15 in Orlando had some people thinking that the eclipse would generate a giant storm front. This BS hype is par for the course on Reddit.

Earthquakes are unrelated to the eclipse

The connection between eclipses and earthquakes goes back to the Bible. Even though many places around the world have experienced total eclipses and weren’t leveled by a massive quake, the unfounded connection persists. Eclipses and earthquakes have long been viewed as portents from God or “gods”. This wacky idea still hangs on in modern times even though we know they are not arbitrary events – they have a natural cause. The doomsday hype about earthquakes appeared at the time of the 2017 US solar eclipse.

Some religious leaders, who think themselves very special in that they can interpret the Bible and strike fear into their followers, saying that a large quake could occur that would cause massive damage. They encourage people to be prepared. Being prepared for a quake is not unreasonable. But suggesting that a large quake may occur during this time is dangerous and irresponsible. In particular, Tennessee evangelist Perry Stone uses “information” he just learned about the NMSZ (like, yesterday) to convince listeners that Jesus might have been talking specifically about 2024 in the Bible verse that connects earthquakes (in various places) to famine, pestilence and signs from heaven. The sign from heaven is the eclipse, he says. From his videos, Stone Ministries specializes in scaring people with nonsense claims about End Times and evil. This interpretation is a stretch. We are asked to believe that a predicted solar eclipse that occurs in a short time span over the US will herald a global catastrophe. Considering the track record of religious prophecies, I’m going to play the odds and say, “Nah”.

The New Madrid seismic zone (NMSZ) may be growing cold.

The path of totality does, again, pass over the centrally-located NMSZ along the Mississippi in Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas and Kentucky, (and the Wabash Valley Seismic Zone to the northeast) however, this means nothing. The NMSZ is still poorly understood. The large earthquakes it generated in 1811-12 would be devastating if they occurred today. Many people still assume that the next “Big One” could occur in the next century. This is unlikely, though small quakes are frequent. Current research even suggests the fault system may be shutting down, not “overdue” for another large release.

Map of the path of the eclipse of 2017 and that of 2024. The New Madrid and Wabash Valley Seismic zones are roughly located in the red oval. Both eclipse paths cross this area. Geologically, that has no signficance.

The moon passing in front of the sun has no bearing on tectonic plates (or volcanic eruptions). Yet, most people know that the phase of the moon affects the earth’s ocean tides. The extra gravitational effects from a new or full moon phase on the entire planet is slight, but we see it in the oceans, which are unbounded and slosh around.

The exerted force on the crust is negligible, except for the small possibility that a large fault already set to rupture gets broken by that little extra push. The data that suggests this may be the case is not fully accepted by seismologists and, regardless, has no practical use in seismic hazards prediction. These small changes associated with tidal stresses on the earth have not convinced scientists that we should worry more about earthquakes every two weeks in line with moon phases. Yet, many crackpots still proclaim that earth tides can predict quakes. They see the celestial bodies in alignment and assume the gravitational pull is increased, but it’s not. The same misapplied ideas may also be leading to those same wind bags spouting about tsunamis or large tidal effects. None of it shakes out.

There are many large earthquakes around the world every year. And there are several lunar and solar eclipses every century. The odds that events will sometimes coincide is inevitable. But they are not caused by each other. If a quake occurred in the US during this eclipse, the chances are that the quake would be small, because there are dozens of small quakes that occur every day. And, if that were to happen on April 8, anywhere in the US, or even weeks later, it would be difficult to stop people from assuming they are related. Human brains want to make connections and attribute causes to a direct observation, and usually to an agency – like God, the Devil, or the government – to form a story in their own minds. But correlations, in the context of our narrow human views, do not mean the events have a causal relationship. Sadly, few people are well versed in understanding natural phenomenon and applying critical thinking. They prefer to believe a dramatic story and share it with others. Thus, we have these kinds of social commotions about interesting events, swirling with misinformation and pseudoscience.

Chill out and enjoy the celestial show!

Update 5-April-2024

Why earthquakes now? It just makes things worse. The scare mongering has ramped up in the last few days but today’s earthquakes in New Jersey caused it to explode and reach many more people who search for info on the internet.

Social media sites that feature mostly bullshit, like Reddit and TikTok are responsible for promoting ideas that the eclipse event will include some human sacrifice and tied it to the New Madrid fault. No, I don’t get it either and I don’t feel like ruining the rest of my day to find out what they might be talking about. But it’s awful.

Similarly, ridiculous commentators are claiming that the eclipse will pass through many towns named “Rapture” or “Nineveh”. It is true that the town of Rapture, Illinois is hosting eclipse viewers. They also were in the path of the 2017 eclipse. Some claims say that this town is at the ‘X’ of the two eclipse paths. The town is so small, it isn’t even named on the map I found. It’s not the center of the X, though. (That’s outside of Carbondale, IL.)

There are two towns named Nineveh in the path of totality (Indiana and Ohio). The derived significance of that is Biblical, related to the Assyrian city deemed wicked and worthy of destruction. God sent Jonah to preach to them to avoid their demise. There is a hypothesis that the occurence of an eclipse in ancient Nineveh at that time was key to getting the people to repent. The current circulating claim on TikTok is that the eclipse will pass over seven or eight towns of this name, making it sound scarier. Debunked. One preacher jumps on the bandwagon to add that not only will Rapture and Nineveh(s) see the eclipse, but so will Jonah, Texas. OOooh, scary, if you like finding patterns in noise.

From the website Christianity Today:

As the April 8 event will take place primarily over North America, some in the US are anticipating a great Day of Judgment complete with terrorist attacks, biological warfare, and nuclear meltdowns. According to alt-right conspiracy theorists, including some fringe evangelical leaders, this war will usher in a new world order in which Christ will return and America (alongside Israel) will rule the nations.

Sure. Just like all the other times the world ended.

6 thoughts on “Eclipse Anxiety 2024

  1. Yeah! Like the loooong list of doomsday predictions which haven’t come true, it makes so little sense (about zero) that it must have explanations deep in the darkness of our primal mental ways.
    Thanks for this post Sharon!

  2. What irritates me the most is that the supposed “main stream media” picks up on so many of these crazy ideas and publishes them helping to spread this nonsense. A lot of the supposedly ‘respectable’ media outlets out there have become about as reliable as the Weekly World News.

  3. @sharona "Yet, most people know that the phase of the moon affects the earth’s ocean tides. The extra gravitational effects from a new or full moon phase on the entire planet is slight, but we see it in the oceans, which are unbounded and slosh around. "

    What really sloshes around is the ocean's thermocline, which exists in a reduced effective gravity region much like outer space. So it becomes very sensitive to tidal forces.

  4. @sharona
    We had a total eclipse in Germany when I was small and I can confirm that there were only very few zombies crawling out of the graveyards and that they were rather easy to kill even for me as a child. Nothing to worry about.

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