“Supermoon” to square off against comet dust on Saturday night
This weekend, science will yet again battle superstition and doomsaying when the moon comes the closest all year to earth – growing 14 per cent in size to form an unofficially named “supermoon.”
Of course, the moon is not actually growing – it's just closer than the rest of the year. That much about the supermoon should be super obvious.
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Without a celestial yard-stick, you probably won't even be able to tell the difference, but for astronomy buffs, this year's supermoon coincides with a meteor shower caused by Earth moving through dust from the once-in-76-years Halley's Comet (rhymes with “dallies” and has no semblance to the oldies band Bill Haley and the Comets. Sorry).
The supermoon is the subject of many theories about how the moon would impact events on the earth. Take, for example, March 19, 2011's supermoon – the closest our long-time satellite had been to us in 18 years. A week before, Japan experienced its devastating earthquake and tsunami. And five ships ran aground off the coast of England. But a glance through a century of records show absolutely no link between the moon's proximity and mayhem and chaos.
Media around the world are going wild, once again, over the catastrophic predictions of astrologer Richard Nolle -- whose fortune-telling website Astropro boasts of "astrological excellence since 1973." Among Nolle's nutty notions, he argued in 1979 that a too-close moon was responsible for New Zealand's massive Feb. 2011 Christchurch earthquake -- which hit the country almost exactly 70 years after another supermoon quake, on Feb. 3, 1931. Even Hurricane Katrina and the Philippines' 1991 Mt. Pinatubo volcanic eruption are pinned on an event which in fact occurs multiple times a year, for which there is no statistical evidence of a link.
Nolle disavows the doomsaying accusations. In fact, he coined the term "supermoon," which unfortunately has stuck.
Makes a great news headline, but supermoon's not too much to get hyped up about at all.
In fact, to ratchet up excitement for the moon's imperceptible 356,955 kilometers fly-by (that's nearly 40,000 kilometres closer than usual), NASA suggests creating an optical illusion by looking at the moon as it rises behind a tree or building close to the horizon. Your brain will trick you into thinking it's HUGE. In fact, you can do that anytime you want. DIY megamoon.
A supermoon's official name is “perigee-syzygy” - which means that a full moon falls at the same time as the moon's annual nearest point of its earthly orbit.
This weekend, if the brighter moon doesn't drown out all darkness in the skies, keep an eye out for an annual meteor shower, the Eta Aquarid, which occurs when Earth passes through a trail of comet dust left behind by Halley.
Of course, those prone to catastrophism (or simply confirmation bias) might nod in Nolle's direction at news that a 4.0 magnitude earthquake hit off Vancouver Island yesterday, the eighth in only a few weeks.
On the odd chance that the apocalypse actually occurs as a result of this Saturday's supermoon, feel free to blame this sarcastic Vancouver Observer pop scientist for being such a naysayer.