Detail from public domain photo of the US Navy, thru Wikimedia Commons

Superstitious about Supermoons

The older I get, the more fascinated I become with the tendency of some people to stick to their cherished beliefs when confronted with overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  It’s the same for folks who insist that legends, stories and myths are true despite the complete lack of any evidence to support such beliefs, and abundant reason to believe that they simply are not true.

I recently wrote a blog for EarthSky (Does a supermoon have a super effect on us?) explaining why so-called “Supermoons” per se are not likely to have any relevant or perceptible effect on the Earth or its inhabitants. Any effects, if real, are far more likely to be due to psychological reasons.

On thing that I have encountered lately is the idea that the Moon’s gravity has an effect on the human body to the extent that such lunar influence can explain aberrant human behavior. It is a long-held and widespread belief that there are more murders, more deaths, more arrests and so on during the time of a Full Moon. Such claims are made based on hearsay and interpretations of statistics, without any clear indication of any possible mechanism involved. Basically, it has been a situation of “guilt by association,” in which folks believe that one thing is related to another because they occur (or at least are seen to occur) at or near the same time.

While I cannot completely discount the reported rise in certain behaviors during the Full Moon or even “supermoons,” I can say that it is highly unlikely that gravity has anything to do with it.

Of course there is some reason to consider that certain human rhythms have been affected, on an evolutionary time scale, by the phases of the Moon. But that is certainly not what is involved here, since it would involve longterm, gradual effects rather than the sudden actions and acute symptoms attributed to the Full Moon.

In any event, science is loath to greatly consider any idea that is based solely on personal beliefs and/or simple (and often flawed) statistics. Further, when claims can be clearly discounted, there is no motivation to invest research funds.

While I do not think we can completely discount these claims based on possible influences of the light cycling of the Moon, since there is a possibility of such influences in our pre-industrial past, I don’t think it is likely. Today, our sleep and other cycles are so wildly affected by 24-hour electrical lighting that any light of the Moon is essentially irrelevant in most cases.

Some have brought up the discovery a few years ago by the Japanese lunar probe Kaguya that an unexpected electrical field develops near the surface of the Moon during full phase. The expected source of this a comet-tail like extension of the Earth’s magnetic field called the magnetotail. However, given that this electrical field is near the surface of the Moon, not the Earth, it is difficult to imagine how this would affect anyone on Earth (future moonwalkers need to be aware, though!)

This brings us back to the idea that the changing strength of the Moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth, and to a vastly smaller extent, human beings, could play a role in the alleged effects. Comments on this idea, which I addressed in the EarthSky blog, were what prompted me to write this blog. In the EarthSky blog I wrote:

More importantly from an astrological perspective (I presume, since I decidedly am not an astrologer) would be the effect on a human being. Consider an 80-kilogram (176-pound) human being. The maximum difference between apogean and perigean moons is about 73 milligrams, or about 1/14th the mass of an ordinary paper clip.

If you factor in the solar gravity effect for a supermoon, or full moon closest to Earth, this effect may rise to about 110 milligrams, roughly equivalent to about 1/9th the mass of a paperclip.

In either case, the effects are imperceptible, and far smaller than those encountered in other everyday situations, such as being near a mountain or even a large building.

In fact, even passing a car on the street has a larger and far more acute gravitational affect, although still vastly too small to matter.

This simply boils down to the fact that the Moon’s gravity, or rather variations in the strength of it relative to the Earth, is far too faint and subtle to have any perceptible effect on human physiology.  Since gravity pervades the Universe and is present between any two masses, the Moon’s gravity does indeed interact with the human body, but it is tantamount to the effect of dropping a pebble into the ocean, and is drowned out by many other much greater forces and influences.

With that in mind, it is highly likely that any alleged effects of full moons or “supermoons” are psychological in nature, not physical.  The beliefs likely are spawned by misunderstanding of natural phenomena and processes, by hearsay, by the human tendency to see connections where none truly exist and perhaps, in some cases, psychological causes such as paranoia.


About Starman

Cosmic Awareness Facilitator. Astronomy, space, physics, science, planets, cosmology, reason, logic, clouds, sky phenomena, the environment, dogs and other animals, and other interesting stuff.
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