March 19, 2011

Extreme ‘Supermoon’ To Take Place Tonight

The moon will reportedly be closer to Earth on March 19 than it has been in 18 years.

The moon's orbit around the Earth is slightly elliptical, and when it is at the near point it is known as a lunar perigee.  However, astronomy and astrology fans are calling this upcoming lunar event a "supermoon."

Internet fans of this lunar event say that the supermoon could cause a climatological reign of terror on the entire planet, but scientists say that this will not happen.

According to ABC News, AccuWeather blogger Mark Paquette wrote in a blog post earlier this month that he thinks the phrase "supermoon" originated on the website of astrologer Richard Nolle and spread to astronomers online.

Paquette said a new or full moon at 90 percent or more of its closest perigee qualifies as a "supermoon."

He said that next weekend's full moon will not just be a supermoon but an extreme supermoon because the moon will be almost precisely at its closest distance to Earth.

According to Paquette, "new age" forecasts suggest that the supermoon is expected to bring strong earthquakes, storms or unusual climate patterns.

"There were supermoons in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005. These years had their share of extreme weather and other natural events. Is the supermoon and these natural occurrences a coincidence?" he wrote in his blog. 

"Some would say yes; some would say no. I'm not here to pick sides and say I'm a believer or non-believer in subjects like this, but as a scientist I know enough to ask questions and try to find answers," said Paquette.

He told ABC News that he wants to remain "neutral" on the topic but added, "I do think it's possible that it could bring earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or anything weather-related as well."

NASA astronomer Dave Williams said that there is no reason to believe that anything out of the ordinary will take place next week.

"There's nothing really special about this," he told ABC News.

Although the moon will be closer than it has been in 18 or 19 years, it will only be one or two percent closer.

"It's nothing you could notice unless you made really accurate measurements," he said. "It's a few thousand miles closer, but as far as the moon's orbit is considered, that's nothing."

Williams said that the orbit of the moon changes slightly over time, so the distance between Earth and the moon also changes.

He said that on March 19, it will probably be only about half a percent closer than it is every 18 years, which is a "very, very small amount."

And though the gravitational effect on the moon causes the tides, he told ABC that there is "no scientific reason whatsoever" to expect that this supermoon will result in floods or other extreme conditions.

However, Williams said that on the night of March 19, "you will want to peek up at the sky."

"Because it's a full moon at its closest approach, it's going to be big and really bright. It should be noticeably brighter than a normal full moon. I would suggest that you take the opportunity and go out at night," he said. "This is the biggest full moon that you will ever see. You will see this moon again, but this is as big as it gets."