We’re All Going to Die: Perigee-Syzygy

The perigeesyzygy of the Earth-Moon-Sun system, otherwise referred to as a “Supermoon”, “is the coincidence of a full moon or a new moon (“syzygy”) with the closest approach the Moon makes to the Earth on its elliptical orbit (“perigee”), resulting in the largest apparent size of the lunar disk as seen from Earth”. Last night’s Supermoon appeared bigger and brighter in the night sky than it had in nearly 70 years. Fourteen percent bigger, thirty percent brighter and shines thirty percent more light than a moon at its farthest point to be exact, according to NASA. It is not expected to appear as close to Earth again until November 25, 2034.

The “Supermoon” terminology is actually not used by scientists. It was invented by the astrologist Richard Noelle in 1979. Jackie Faherty, an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History told NPR that the term “didn’t have much science behind it, except that he coined a term for when the moon was full, when it was 90 percent of the closest distance it could be to Earth. And a couple of years ago, it just caught on… I think it’s just because someone took the word ‘super’ and put it in front of the word ‘moon'”. Scientists use the “perigee-syzygy” terminology because it accurately describes the coincidence of the Earth, Sun and Moon lining up with the simultaneous closeness of the Moon to the Earth. When both a perigee and syzygy occur and the moon is located on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun we get a Supermoon.

However, the Supermoon is actually largely an optical illusion. The full moon always looks large along a horizon because our brains can’t adequately interpret the size of the moon with the buildings and the horizon in the foreground. The phenomenon is still largely unexplained, but there are a number of possible explanations for this “moon illusion”. The Apparent Distance hypothesis, the Relative Size hypothesis, and the Angle of Regard hypothesis are but a few. In fact, 24 different hypotheses have been offered to explain the illusion, but no one has emerged victorious. The most important factor is apparently the sight of terrain, but other factors such as the angle of regard, posture and oculomotor commands matter as well. In essence, it’s a matter of perspective.

Image credit: NASA. The moon's orbit is closer to being a circle than the diagram suggests, but the exaggeration helps to clarify. The moon is closest to Earth in its orbit at perigee and farthest away at apogee. When the full moon aligns with perigee, as it does on November 14, 2016, then it's a perigee full moon.

While the Supermoon assuredly offers tremendous photographic opportunities, some believe it also portents malady. Tides on Earth are mostly generated by the Moon’s gravitational pull from one side of Earth to the other. These are greatest during the full and new Moons because the Sun and Moon are aligned on the same or opposite sides of Earth. When the Moon is closer to the Earth the higher the gravitational pull, leading to larger variation between high and low tides as well as higher spring tides which may cause abnormally high flooding in coastal areas. Thereby, this Supermoon is expected to cause flooding along the East Coast through mid-week.

Similarly, the Moon’s gravity can also cause small ebbs and flows in the continents called land tides or solid Earth tides. An increase in tectonic activity during the 1-2 week period surrounding a Supermoon may result in an increased possibility of an earthquake, volcanic activity and/or tsunami. As a result, there has been speculation that natural disasters may be casually linked to Supermoons. While there is no empirical evidence of such a casual link, astrologers believe Supermoons are capable of triggering natural disasters around the world. According to spiritual community website Oranum, “some of the biggest natural disasters in recent history have taken place during supermoons, such as the 2011 Japanese Earthquake, the 2005 Indonesian Tsunami and the 1992 and 1993 Midwest floods, superstorm and blizzard”. And as a Supermoon occurred in October, last night saw a super Supermoon, and Earth will see another Supermoon next month, there will continue to be an unusually significant amount of stress placed on the Earth’s internal energy balance.

Some also believe Supermoons cause mental illness and other cognitive maladies.

A Supermoon,a largely a psychological phenomenon, may flood coastal cities across the globe, spark natural disasters which will can the the lives of those not afflicted by the flooding, and may cause others to lose their minds. Thereby, a Supermoon has the potential to destroy the minds, bodies and lives of humans around the world. Last night’s Supermoon was the largest in 68 years. And it was only the second of three.

The Chicago Cubs win the World Series. Donald Trump is President-elect of the United States. Now this Supermoon with another to come. Coincidence?

Have a nice day.

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