Next earthquake/tsunami/meltdown was not brought to you by supermoon
In March last year people fretted and fussed that a "supermoon" could be related to natural disasters because one was visible March 20, shortly after a massive earthquake and tsunami struck Japan.
Nonsense, say our philosophers.
This May’s full Moon is a "super Moon,” as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons of 2012.
The scientific term for the phenomenon is "perigee moon." Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon's orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side ("perigee") about 50,000 km closer than the other ("apogee"). Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon's orbit seem extra big and bright.
Such is the case on May 5th at 11:34 pm Eastern Daylight Time when the Moon reaches perigee. Only one minute later, the Moon lined up with Earth and the sun to become brilliantly full. The timing was almost perfect.
A ScienceCast video explains the facts and fiction of "super-moons." Play it
Okay, the Moon is 14% bigger than usual, but can you really tell the difference? It's tricky. There are no rulers floating in the sky to measure lunar diameters. Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full Moon can seem much like any other.
The best time to look is when the Moon is near the horizon. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. On May 5th, this Moon illusion amplified a full Moon that was extra-big to begin with. The swollen orb rising in the east at sunset should seem super indeed.
Perigee is the point in the Moon's elliptical orbit closest to Earth.
Folklore holds that all kinds of wacky things happen under the light of a full Moon. Supposedly, hospital admissions increase, the crime rate ticks upward, and people behave strangely. The idea that the full Moon causes mental disorders was widespread in the Middle Ages. Even the word "lunacy," meaning "insanity," comes from the Latin word for "Moon."
The majority of modern studies, however, show no correlation between the phase of the Moon and the incidence of crime, sickness, or human behavior. The truth is, the Moon is less influential than folklore would have us believe.
It's true that a perigee full Moon brings with it extra-high "perigean tides," but according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration this is nothing to worry about. In most places, lunar gravity at perigee pulls tide waters only a few centimeters (an inch or so) higher than usual. Local geography can amplify the effect to about 15 centimeters (six inches)–not exactly a great flood.
NASA says: “Super perigee Moons are actually fairly common. The Moon becomes full within a few hours of its closest approach to Earth about once a year on average. The last such coincidence occurred on March 19th, 2011, producing a full Moon that was almost 400 km closer than this one. As usual, no trouble was reported–unless you count a midnight awakening as trouble.’’
And no matter how far away a full moon is, it's not going to make people commit crimes, get admitted to a psychiatric hospital or do anything else that popular belief suggests, a psychologist says.
Studies that have tried to document such connections have found "pretty much a big mound of nothing, as far as I can tell," Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University told the AP.
And its closeness to Earth will not pose any threat, the Taipei Astronomical Museum said.
"There is no scientific link between a lunar effect and natural disasters," stated museum researcher Lee Fu-lung.
Unless you count the March 11, 2011 Japan earthquake, tsunami and meltdown of course.
Lunch Magazine says: gravity's books have gots to balance!
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