Saturday, May 12, 2012

Afraid of Supermoon?

Birds against Supermoon. Credit: Taken by Flickr photographer Don Kittle
I am sorry to report that we did not see "The Supermoon" in Zurich this year. There were two reasons for this. The first was that David decided he was afraid of the Supermoon and the second was that we could not find it. We tried to go out at night to see it and climbed up the mountain in the back of our (rented) house to find the Moon. On the way there David refused to go any further and started crying. I failed to convince my 5 year old nephew that there was absolutely no reason to be afraid of the Moon - now that it's a little bigger. In the end he became so upset I had to give up.

It later occurred to me that the tides are stronger when Supermoon happens and so his fear might not have been unreasonable if we had lived on a house close to the ocean or been on a boat vs. in Switzerland. Of course, his fear is not unreasonable anyway because he is a five year old child and it's OK to be afraid of a bigger Moon if you are five. It just surprised me that I could not convince him to not be afraid.

When does "Supermoon" happen? and how big is it?
Source:; Sun: bright yellow, Moon: purple, Earth: Blue
The Moon is Earth's satellite and has an elliptical orbit around the Earth. The apogee is the point where the moon is the furthest from Earth and the perigee is the point when it's closest to Earth. Supermoon happens when the Earth, the perigee-Moon, and the Sun are all in line. In other words, the Supermoon is a full moon that is also closest to Earth (a full Moon happens when the moon is on the opposite side of Earth from the Sun).

Supermoon happens once a year. In general, the full moon and the perigree moon do not coincide exactly. So, the size of Supermoon does vary. However, Supermoon is not huge. NASA says the 2012 Supermoon is only about 14% larger than a typical full moon at its furthest point and about 30% brighter than the other full Moons of 2012,  which makes it seem bigger.

Does David have a point? Should we be afraid of Supermoon?
 The combined effects of the Sun and the Moon will be the strongest of the year when Supermoon happens. The tides are stronger than at any other time of the year. Supermoon did ground a few ships last year. However, no correlations have been found between Supermoon and Earthquakes or Tsunami or any other natural disaster. So, while we should be cautious if we are on a ship or on the beach and it's Supermoon night, Supermoon does not seem to be something we should fear. David did relax and forgot about his fear when we were back inside. He and Edward spent the rest of the evening jumping around the house and screaming "jumping monkey" until they were tired enough to go to sleep.

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