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Bright Side of the Moon

Article Published: Mar. 17, 2011 | Modified: Sep. 7, 2011
Bright Side of the Moon

Saturday's full moon, expected to be the closest full moon to Earth in more than 18 years.

Tidal pulls, earthquakes and a super moon.

The debate is on.

Saturday's full moon, expected to be the closest full moon to Earth in more than 18 years, has been a topic of national discussion but, according to Appalachian State University astronomer Dan Caton, it's much ado about nothing. "The moon's orbit is elliptical," he said.

This means it varies in distance from Earth each month.

"Sometimes it's closest to us when it's also full," he said. "And that's what's going to happen Saturday."

And, while it may be visually pleasing, there is no scientific evidence that the moon's proximity will cause the type of cosmic shift that results in tsunamis and earthquakes. When the deadly quake rocked Japan last week, Caton said the moon was actually farther away than usual.

"It's going to be closest to us and at full phase, so it looks bigger," he said, "but the total variation from the smallest it looks to the biggest it looks is only about 10 percent, so this is not something you would probably even notice if you weren't told."

And, he said, the panic is about the astrology, not the astronomy.

"One of those other guys (astrologers) dubbed it a super moon," he said. "I had literally never seen this term used until this week."

The moon's eclipse cycles, called "Saros cycles," are completed every 223 months. The closest astronomical incident to Saturday happened in 2005, only, "It wasn't a full moon; it was a new moon," Caton said.

Internet rumors say it was that 2005 new moon that contributed to a tsunami, rumors Caton rejects.
"It's in the same category as the 2012 nonsense," he said. "I wish it were as simple to predict earthquakes and tsunamis ... The fact of the matter is that scientists have looked for correlations between earthquakes and lunar phase, and nothing is there."

But it will make for romantic viewing on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Caton recommends moon watching at sunset for maximum effect.

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