March 19 ‘Supermoon’ May Cause Moonquakes, Scientist Says
By Loren Grush
There’s a supermoon on the rise next week. And according to Internet buzz, it’ll bring a scary surge in natural disasters around the globe.
No way, Jose: Numerous scientists have reassured the public that there’s absolutely no correlation between disturbances on Earth and this rare lunar phase.
But the moon itself? That’s another story.
On March 19, Earth’s satellite will be at its closest point to our planet in 18 years — a mere 356,577 kilometers away. The event — also called a lunar perigee — was dubbed a “supermoon” by astrologer Richard Nolle back in the 1970s. The term is used to describe a new or full moon at 90% or more of its closest orbit to Earth. Next week, it will be at 100%.
Nolle is responsible for coining the upcoming event, and he’s also responsible for the latest buzz sweeping the Internet about how the supermoon will affect the planet. On his website Astropro, Nolle warns Earth’s inhabitants to prepare themselves during the “supermoon risk window,” which ranges from March 16 – 22. During this time, Nolle claims there will be an increase in supreme tidal surges, magnitude 5 or higher earthquakes, and even volcanic activity.
“If you look at the USGS website where they have all the significant earthquakes of 2011, you will find that 72.7% of them fall in the risk windows on my website,” Nolle told FoxNews.com. “The Christchurch earthquake happened on the last day of a supermoon window. The Haiti earthquake even happened in one of the time windows in my 2010 forecast — which was published the year before.”
Scientific research said otherwise.
Peter Goldreich, an emeritus professor for the Astronomy and Planetary Science Department at Caltech University, notes that he and several other scientists have studied the moon for decades and have never found it to cause these natural disasters.
“There have been a lot of studies on whether earthquakes on our planet were triggered when the moon was closest to Earth, and no conclusive evidence has ever been found for that,” Goldreich told FoxNews.com. “The idea is that the strain builds up in the Earth until only a small little bit of extra gravitational force could tip it over and cause an earthquake, and this could come from the moon. But there’s been no absolutely no correlation for that.”
In fact, Goldreich said Earth isn’t the one in danger of experiencing some shaking.
“There is on the moon seismic activity connected with a lunar perigee,” Goldreich said. “These were detected by seismological instruments left on the moon by the Apollo astronauts. There was an effect, but it wasn’t enormous. But the moon did quake near perigee.”
Just like the orbits of planets around the sun, the moon’s path around the Earth is more elliptical than circular. So within each lunar cycle, there is a part of the orbit when it is closest to Earth and a part when it is farthest away (perigee and apogee, respectively). The tides normally change as the moon goes from perigee to apogee, and next week will be no different.
“You tend to have stronger tides near the full moon,” Gordon Johnston, planetary program executive for NASA, told FoxNews.com. “These will be the strongest tides of the month, but they won’t be much different from last year. They’re not that unusual from other tides around the full moon.”
Johnston said the biggest difference is purely cosmetic, with next week’s moon being a sight to behold.
“The moon will be a little closer than it was last year, 1/4,000 of a percent closer,” Johnston told FoxNews.com. “The distance between the Earth and the moon changes a lot in its orbit. Really the only change is that it appears bigger when it’s close. This coming full moon will be the brightest of the year.”
As for the theories purported by Nolle and other astrologers … well, Johnston hopes that people don’t take everything they hear at face value.
“We live in an age where information gets circulated around very quickly,” Johnston said. “So I would just say to do your research.”