UNITED KINGDOM, March 20, 2011: The world has just experienced the biggest full moon for almost two decades when the satellite reached its closest point to Earth. On 19 March, the full moon looked unusually large in the night sky as it reaches a point in its cycle known as ‘lunar perigee’.
Stargazers were treated to a spectacular view with the moon approaching Earth at a distance of 221,567 miles in its elliptical orbit – the closest it has passed to our planet since 1992. The full moon could appear up to 14% bigger and 30% brighter in the sky, especially when provided with the right atmospheric conditions.
This phenomenon has reportedly heightened concerns about ‘supermoons’ being linked to extreme weather events – such as earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunamis. The last time the moon passed close to the Earth was on 10 January 2005, around the time of the Indonesian earthquake that measured 9.0 on the Richter scale. Hurricane Katrina in 2005 was also associated with an unusually large full moon.
However, Dr. Tim O’Brien, a researcher at the Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester, said: ‘The dangers are really overplayed. You do get a bit higher than average tides than usual along coastlines as a result of the moon’s gravitational pull, but nothing so significant that will cause a serious climatic disaster or anything for people to worry about.’
But according to Dr. Victor Gostin, a Planetary and Environmental Geoscientist at Adelaide University, there may be a link between large-scale earthquakes in places around the equator and new and full moon situations. He said: ‘This is because the Earth-tides (analogous to ocean tides) may be the final trigger that sets off the earthquake.’