Lunar eclipses—such as this total lunar eclipse seen over Wisconsin in 2008—have long been seen as bad omens.
Ancient documents from Asia, Europe, and the Middle East are full of references connecting eclipses with subsequent dark events, such as a famine or the death of a monarch. (Take a moon myths and mysteries quiz.)
In many traditional cultures, a total lunar eclipse occurs not when the moon enters Earth's shadow but when a mythological creature swallows the satellite, according to ancient-astronomy scholar Ed Krupp.
"For the Chinese, it was the heavenly dog, and across central Asia and Europe, it was a dragon," said Krupp, director of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles. "The Maya sometimes depicted the eclipse creature as a serpent, while in the Andes, it was often a puma."
In Iraq lunar eclipses are associated with a popular children's story of a moon that is eaten by a whale.
"For most people, most of the time, most eclipses were trouble," Krupp added. "They were regarded as disruptions of the world order, and that made them dangerous."