Expect supermoon, not strange behaviour: psychologist
Published Saturday, May 5, 2012 9:48PM EDT
Stargazers spotted a brilliant, bright "supermoon" when they gazed at the sky on Saturday night. But despite common folklore, experts say the celestial show won't cause any strange occurrences back on Earth.
The phenomenon known as a lunar perigee occurs when the moon is closer to the Earth than at any other time of the year.
Coincidentally, the moon was expected to become full just two minutes after 11:35 p.m. ET, creating a phenomenon known as a "supermoon."
According to the Lunar Perigee and Apogee Calculator, a website linked to by NASA, the moon was 356,953 kilometres from the Earth on Saturday night.
That's 6,000 kilometres closer than on average, astronomy writer Andrew Fazekas told CTV News. "That's about as close as the moon can get."
As a result, the moon looked 16 per cent larger and about 30 per cent brighter than at any other time during the entire year, Fazekas said.
The confluence of proximity and fullness were expected to result in a rare opportunity for skywatchers and astronomers to view an especially big and bright moon.
What's not expected are higher crime rates or freak events as a result of the supermoon.
According to Fazekas, the full moon is associated with high tides, which could cause localized flooding in areas where there is a storm surge at the same time as the high tide during the full moon.
"But all the hype surrounding the supermoon and connections with natural disasters like earthquakes and tsunamis, there's absolutely no scientific evidence for that connection," Fazekas said. "I just suggest people go out and enjoy the supermoon. "
Studies seeking a link between full moons and strange phenomena have turned up "pretty much a big mound of nothing, as far as I can tell," Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University and an author of "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology" told The Associated Press.
He added that the belief that full moons cause abnormal happenings is one of the top 10 myths because "it's so widely held and it's held with such conviction."
The moon will reach its apogee, or furthest distance from the Earth, 13 days later on May 19, when it will be positioned 406,450 kilometres away.
Then on Nov. 28, it will reach full moon status at its furthest distance from Earth -- 406,364 kilometres. That will result in a much smaller and darker full moon than the one expected on Saturday.
The last supermoon occurred in March 2011.
Fazekas said supermoons are "part of the natural cycle, the orbit of the moon."
"If you look at the orbit from above the plane of the solar system, you'll see that the moon has got an egg-shaped orbit, so it means that at some point in time the moon can be a little bit closer to the earth than at other times," he explained.
According to Richard Nolle, the astrologer who coined the term supermoon, the phenomenon occurs any time the moon is full, and comes within 90 per cent of its closest approach to Earth within a given orbit.
"In short, Earth, Moon and Sun are all in a line, with Moon in its nearest approach to Earth," Nolle explained in a blog.