07 May 2012

Over the moon for the supermoon

The supermoon shines over the St. Lawrence River and the lights of Lévis.
Sometimes, size does matter. In the case of full moons, you could even say, bigger is better, and this past weekend was the weekend for moon watchers. According to NASA, a “supermoon” is the full moon that occurs when the moon and the Earth are closest together each year. This year, the supermoon occurred on May 5-6, 2012. NASA stated, “The full moon on May 5, 2012 will be as much as 14 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than other full moons of 2012.” Technically speaking, the difference is so slight that the casual observer cannot actually perceive it. 

Starshine matched the moonshine on des Pleins d'Abraham.
National Geographic explains that this effect is “due to the moon's egg-shaped orbit. There are times when our natural satellite is at perigee — its closest to Earth — and at apogee, its farthest. The term "supermoon" was coined in 1979 to describe a full moon that coincides with perigee — something that happens about once a year, on average.”   CBC has a handy video about the science of supermoons available on their website.  

Around the globe, the moon played (and still plays) a key role in many cosmologies. We may be most familiar with the Greek goddesses Selene and Artemis and the Roman goddess Diana. However, there are countless other world views that ascribe great significance to the moon, and many which regard it as masculine as well.  

The supermoon lights up sailboat masts in drydock at the Quebec City Yacht Club.

Today, the moon is pervasive in our lexicon. Just think of phrases like ‘shoot for the moon,’ to be ‘over the moon,’ to ‘moon about,’ ‘crying for the moon,’ or ‘once in a blue moon.’ These phrases are likely all predated by a slightly more sinister variation on that celestial body. The word lunacy has its origins in the mid-1500s, when it was believed that intermittent periods of insanity were triggered by the moon’s cycles.  

Although more recent folklore attributes a negative influence to full moons for geologic activity on the earth, and deviant behavior in humans and other beings such as werewolves, the conclusion among astronomers is just that — it’s all a bunch of myths.

The moon influences daily tides, but it is only in places like the Bay of Fundy where the perigee may have had a noticeable effect on tides this past weekend. As for increased delinquent behavior during full moons, that supposition doesn’t hold up to statistical analysis any more than claims of werewolves might.

I spent the last hour of May 6th out chasing the moon; wishing for a more powerful zoom lens, to capture the fingerprint-detail of the moon's surface; so glad I brought the tripod, or these images wouldn't exist; and remembering again how remarkably quiet a city this big can be around midnight.

Were you out howling at the moon this weekend?  

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