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'Moon Knight': Khonshu's greatest feats


‘Moon Knight’: Khonshu’s greatest feats

Don’t mess with this guy.

You gotta admit, at first, having the god of the Moon on your side doesn’t sound all that beneficial. What’s he gonna do, shrug some moon rocks down toward your enemies? Blind them with gently reflected sunlight? Rearrange some regolith to display a celestial obscene gesture?

In episode 3 of Marvel’s Moon Knight on Disney+, Khonshu actually pulls off some astronomical feats that rival the power of the capital “G” God of the Old Testament.

Moon Knight's Khonshu

First, Khonshu flexes his mythical muscles by causing a lunar eclipse, to get the attention of series villain Arthur Harrow and his followers. Historically, many cultures saw eclipses as bad omens and portents of tragedy, with ancient Egyptian legends specifically imagining a pig that temporarily swallowed the Moon. Harrow’s loyal tomb-diggers (and really, the rest of humanity) seem unimpressed, though. Presumably the world’s astronomers were baffled, as simple orbital mechanics equations can accurately predict eclipses hundreds if not thousands of years in advance.

But the only beings we see reacting negatively, or even much at all, are the other Egyptian deities. And for good reason! A lunar eclipse isn’t just a trick of light — it happens when the Sun, Earth, and Moon align so that the Moon is in the shadow of the Earth. The easiest way to create an unexpected lunar eclipse would be to move the Moon into position from wherever it is at the time, a task so monumental it would break the Law of Conservation of Momentum. And if something as simple as the Moon’s normal presence can cause high tides, imagine the floods, earthquakes, and volcanoes that movement would cause!

It’s not the first time the MCU has prioritized spectacle over science, and it wouldn’t be the last. At the end of the very same episode, Khonshu moves the night sky so that it matches what an ancient Egyptian artifact shows. Yes, it’s true that the positions of stars, from our terrestrial vantage point, change over time. This is due to variations in the Earth’s axial tilt and its precession, or how the planet “wobbles,” like a top slowing down. Along with changes in the eccentricity of the Earth’s orbit around the Sun, these three cycles greatly affect global climate, and are thought to be largely responsible for the onset of ice ages.

It’s hypothesized that the Earth is tilted on its rotational axis (a fact that causes our seasons) because of a collision with another planet-sized object, which may or may not have actually created Khonshu’s precious Moon. Gravitational forces (thanks again, Moon) change the Earth’s tilt between 21° and 24° over a period of 41,000 years. Precession causes even greater changes in our celestial sphere over a shorter time period, only about 26,000 years. In just 3,200 years, Polaris won’t be the north star anymore!

'Moon Knight': Khonshu's greatest feats

Moving the Earth itself to restore what the stars looked like in ancient Egypt? Now we’re talking serious catastrophes! The gods were right to lock up Khonshu, that anarchist.

AIPT Science is co-presented by AIPT and the New York City Skeptics.

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