June 13, 2014

Full moon? Friday the 13th? All your questions answered

So on this full-moon Friday the 13th, here are our burning science questions of the day:

So on this full-moon Friday the 13th, here are our burning science questions of the day:

How come the moon looks so huge tonight?

And how come it is colored just a little bit yellow?

And …

Are full-moon nights like tonight more wild than other days?

We called the authorities.

“I haven’t noticed anything unusual so far,” said a Sedgwick County emergency dispatcher, at 2:45 p.m. Friday. “It’s pretty quiet out there.”

Huh. So much for finding a good story.

But then we called local astronomy experts.

“I might be able to shed some light on those questions,” said Robert Henry, tongue in cheek.

OK, so Henry is a funny astronomer. He’s also assistant program director for the Lake Afton Public Observatory, which gives children and adults the chance to look at the moon and stars through telescopes.

But Henry then tossed cold water on the whole “weird stuff happens during a full moon” theory. So much for being funny.

According to science, he said, the moon isn’t larger during full moons, even when our own eyes tell us that it is freaking huge when rising full off the Kansas horizon.

Really? Not any larger?

And really? Full moons don’t cause weirdness?

“Really,” Henry said. “It’s just an optical illusion.”

And the weirdness thing? Not true.


Henry’s boss, observatory director Greg Novacek, said “there is no scientific proof” that people or nature or society in general act more crazy or weird or wild on full-moon days.

“They’ve done studies, with police and emergency rooms, on full-moon days, on normal days,” Novacek said. “There’s no difference.”

“Weird things happen on normal days, too,” Henry said.

No wonder some people discount science.

Earlier Friday the Los Angeles Times published a story that called today’s full moon a “honey moon.” Apparently because of the way our atmosphere bends the light, the moon not only looks bigger but has a kind of rich, honeylike color to it. Science and astronomy are fun, Henry said.

Even when the facts get in the way of a good story.

There’s also a blood moon, a blue moon and a harvest moon.

But here is a scientific fact, Novacek said: Even our own eyes can deceive us.

The moon is no closer on full-moon days than any other day, he said. What happens is that the light from the moon, when it is low on the horizon, gets magnified because it passes through a lot more atmosphere before it reaches our eyes.

And it can look honey yellow or sometimes even reddish because the atmosphere scatters blue light more than it scatters red light, he said.


Anyway, that Sedgwick County emergency dispatcher, when we called her this afternoon, said she had no idea whether full moons cause an increase in weird human behavior. She declined to give her name and identified herself only as “Dispatcher 348.”

“Check back with us a little later,” Dispatcher 348 suggested.

We told her that Robert Henry told us that the moon rises over Wichita tonight at 9:26 p.m., Could we check back with her then?

“No,” Dispatcher 348 said.

“My shift ends now. As soon as I hang up on you, I’m outta here.”

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