The Supermoon is Coming!

Today isn’t just Cinco de Mayo. At 11:34 pm EST, the full moon will reach perigee, the closest it passes to Earth along its elliptical orbit. One minute later, it’ll line up with the Earth and the Sun. This phenomenon is called a supermoon. Astronomers expect it to be 14% bigger and 30% brighter than any other full moon this year.

What is a Supermoon?

Supermoons are often associated with rising tides, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions in popular folklore. And indeed, the gigantic 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami occurred on March 11, just eight days before last year’s supermoon. However, most scholars disagree with that notion. Although there might be a weak correlation between lunar activity and very small earthquakes, there’s no evidence for a correlation with larger ones.

So, don’t worry too much and enjoy the moonlight tonight…it should be spectacular!

Did Lunar Tides Sink the Titanic?

On April 14, 1912, the RMS Titanic sank in the North Atlantic Ocean, taking 1,517 people to a watery grave. But how did it happen?

Did Lunar Tides Sink the Titanic?

The fate of the Titanic is well known. In 1912, it crashed into an iceberg and sank sank in the North Atlantic Ocean. Over 1,500 people died in the process. But how did that particular iceberg enter the Titanic’s shipping lane in the first place?

According to modern astronomers, the answer might lie in the tides…the lunar tides. Here’s more on the Titanic and lunar tides from The Daily Mail:

‘The event January 4 was the closest approach of the Moon to the Earth in more than 1,400 years, and it maximized the Moon’s tide-raising forces on Earth’s oceans. That’s remarkable,’ said Texas State physics faculty member Donald Olson…

All these factors contributed to abnormally high sea levels which helped dislodge grounded icebergs and send them into the shipping lanes of the North Atlantic, it is claimed…

‘That could explain the abundant icebergs in the spring of 1912. We don’t claim to know exactly where the Titanic iceberg was in January 1912 – nobody can know that – but this is a plausible scenario.’

(See The Daily Mail for more on the Titanic and lunar tides)

The Great Moon Hoax…of 1835?

On August 25, 1835, a strange article appeared in the New York Sun. The piece, attributed to famed astronomer Sir John Herschel, announced a startling discovery…the moon was inhabited by intelligent creatures. The Sun’s circulation increased dramatically and within a couple of days, was the most popular newspaper on the planet. What was the Great Moon Hoax of 1835?

What was the Great Moon Hoax?

In 1835, the moon was a source of great mystery. So, when the New York Sun’s headline blared, “Great Astronomical Discoveries Lately Made by Sir John Herschel, L.L.D. F.R.S. &c. At the Cape of Good Hope,” citizens turned their heads.

In total, six articles were published by the Sun, claiming to be supplements to the (non-existent) Edinburgh Journal of Science. Supposedly written by Herschel’s assistant, (the fictitious) Dr. Andrew Grant, the pieces described how Herschel had created a new telescope at his Cape of Good Hope observatory. This miracle of science was capable of 42,000x magnification, more than enough to see small objects in space. The resulting images were then reflected onto the observatory’s walls where they were sketched and described.

The Great Moon Hoax…Life on the Moon?

The articles insisted that Herschel had “discovered planets in other solar systems…firmly established a new theory of cometary phenomena…and…solved or corrected nearly every leading problem of mathematical astronomy.” Despite this impressive list of accomplishments, all of it paled in comparison to the shocking news that Herschel had spotted life on the moon.

After viewing rock, a poppy field, vast forests of yew trees, inland seas, and beaches, Herschel turned his attention to an oval-shaped lunar valley. He reported seeing bison herds and blue unicorns. But the most amazing animals were yet to come. On August 27, readers learned that Herschel had observed signs of intelligent life on the moon. More specifically, he saw a primitive tribe of biped beavers who lived in huts, used fires, and carried their young in their arms. The next day, he reported something even more spectacular…a population of winged humanoids who appeared to live near a golden temple. Herschel and Grant labeled these humanoids “Vespertilio-Homo,” or man-bat.

The man-bats appeared to be engaged in conversations, complete with gestures. While the initial creatures were somewhat primitive, more elaborate man-bats would soon make an appearance. Herschel would later report the existence of a beautiful race of angel-like creatures and a mostly human population of middle class citizens.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The story is now known, of course, as the Great Moon Hoax. Not only had Herschel failed to see any of the sights claimed by the article, he wasn’t even aware of the articles until well after they were published. From all accounts, he was initially amused by the incident but soon grew weary fielding questions about it.

The New York Sun reaped strong benefits from the Great Moon Hoax. Its circulation quickly rose from 15,000 before the series to 19,360 after its conclusion, making the Sun the most popular newspaper in the world at the time. Other newspapers followed suit and soon, the Great Moon Hoax was worldwide.

To this day, it remains unclear whether average citizens were aware of the Great Moon Hoax. At that time, newspapers were known for making up outrageous stories in order to drive sales. Also, it’s important to note that subscribers didn’t cancel their subscriptions once the truth began to emerge. Indeed, the Great Moon Hoax of 1835 became somewhat of a cultural icon for the time, leading to a play at the Bowery Theater among other things. Still, eyewitness accounts from the time make it clear that large numbers of people were fooled by the Great Moon Hoax. For example…

“Yale College was alive with staunch supporters. The literati—students and professors, doctors in divinity and law—and all the rest of the reading community, looked daily for the arrival of the New York mail with unexampled avidity and implicit faith. Have you seen the accounts of Sir John Herschel’s wonderful discoveries? Have you read the Sun? Have you heard the news of the man in the Moon? These were the questions that met you every where. It was the absorbing topic of the day. Nobody expressed or entertained a doubt as to the truth of the story.” ~ Yale Reporter, 1853

So, that leads us to our final question: who was behind the Great Moon Hoax? A reporter named Richard Adams Locke is usually given credit for the articles. However, Locke never admitted his involvement in the Great Moon Hoax and some researchers believe that the French astronomer Jean-Nicolas Nicollet, or Lewis Gaylord Clark, editor of the Knickerbocker Magazine, may have perpetrated it. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to know for certain. And unless new evidence comes to light, we may never know the hoaxer’s true identity.

Secrets of the Moon?

The moon is more than just a celestial body. Its also the source of unanswered questions, speculation, and mystery. One particularly strange mystery involves the vast geographical differences between it’s near side and its far side. Why are these two sides so different from each other?

The Moon: Near Side vs. Far Side

The moon doesn’t rotate. Thus, the near side is always visible from earth while the far side remains shrouded in darkness. But the differences don’t end there. The near side exhibits few mountains and a thin crust. Large rocky plains account for 31.2% of its surface. The far side, in contrast, is marked by mountain ranges measuring over 3,000 feet high and a thick crust. It’s heavily cratered and flat plains account for just 2.5% of its surface.

Secrets of the Moon?

Now, two scholars, planetary scientist Erik Asphaug and his postdoctoral researcher Martin Jutzi, believe they can explain these differences. They recently proposed that the reason the two sides look so different is because they are different. In other words, they think that the moon is, in actuality, two separate celestial bodies!

Using sophisticated computer models, they have shown that it might’ve been formed four billion years ago by a relatively low-speed collision of two separate moons. Their model assumes that the smaller moon smashed into the larger one at about 4,400 miles per hour. At this speed, material from the smaller moon would’ve splattered all over the larger one, creating a thicker crust, a battered surface, and long mountain ranges.

Guerrilla Explorer’s Analysis

The theory doesn’t explain everything. For example, the model assumes that the two moons consisted of the same material. However, the far side of the moon contains heavy concentrations of aluminum, a material that is only found in low quantities on the near side.

Further mineral studies are needed. And fortunately, they’re coming. On September 8, 2011, NASA plans to launch the GRAIL, or Gravity Recovery Interior Laboratory, mission. Two spaceships will fly circular orbits thirty-one miles above the moon’s surface. Using gravity mapping techniques, NASA hopes to determine the moon’s interior structure. That data should help us answer numerous questions about the moon such as, has earth always had just one moon? Or, many centuries ago, did two moons float above our planet?