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Unstrange Phenomena

19 March 2011

Super Moon Phenomenon: Gorgeous Illusion Worth Watching

Moon Photo from starryskies.com

From Denny:  Be on the look out for a gigantic moon hovering over you on the night of 19 March 2011.  The news outlets and stargazers are all excited to see this event.  The moon has not appeared this large since 1992.  This huge moon appears because the moon is closer to the Earth than usual in its elliptical orbit.  That closest approach in the orbit is called the perigee at about 364,000 km.  When the moon is orbiting farther away it's called the apogee at about 406,000 km.  Tonight the moon will be orbiting at about 221,567 miles (356,577 kilometers).  The average distance between the Earth and the moon is about 238.000 miles (382.900 km).

Huge moon 30 percent brighter tonight 

Of course, the astronomy killjoys like to inform the romantics among us that this huge moon is just an illusion.  An illusion you say?  Prove it.  The moon will appear 30 percent brighter in the sky and about 16 percent larger - though your brain will swear it's bigger than that when low on the horizon. It's an optical illusion and it's your brain that is tricked - or so the science guys say.

The Moon Illusion.

Scientists, being the Big Namers that they are, call it The Moon Illusion. Rather clever like when the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Atlanta, Georgia paid $100,000 for a marketing firm to name their upscale coat and tie restaurant.  The settled on the name:  The Restaurant.  Call me old-fashioned but I'd demand my money returned after that farce. :)

Well, the science guys don't really have a definitive answer as to why our brains are tricked into believing the moon is larger when the reality of the measurements say it isn't so.  They do have a couple of Just Supposing Ideas as to why this optical illusion occurs.

Ebbinhaus Illusion theory 

One possibility is when the moon is low on the horizon we have plenty of hills, houses, even trees in the landscape to which we can compare its size.  However, when the moon rises high in the sky it does look isolated and nothing close by for comparison.  Here goes another name: the Ebbinghaus Illusion.  This is where objects of the same size give the appearance of being different sizes when they are placed in different surroundings.  After all, most of what we judge in life is in perspective to the surroundings of which we compare it.


Another idea is that when we view the moon against objects in the foreground that we already know are far away from us, our brain starts running away with this comparison: "Wow! That moon is even farther than those trees and I know those are really far away. Even though the moon is far away it sure does look big.  In fact, that Super Moon must be huge!" (Works for me.)

Legend of the Super Moon

Natural disasters like earthquakes, unusually higher and stronger tides and beach erosion, along with human mayhem have been linked as legend to the Super Moon event.  The natural disasters might make sense as the moon is closer in orbit and exerting more gravitational pull on the planet than normal.  However, the science guys seem to think it's no big deal and will be minimal.  Tell that to the folks in Japan still encountering 6.0 and above aftershocks, to the tune of several hundred now, since their earthquake and tsunami just one week ago  Hopefully, they will not experience any more Mother Nature mayhem during the Super Moon.

Optical illusion or not I've come to the conclusion the brain is a natural romantic so give it up and just enjoy the cosmic show tonight!

For the spiritual version of the Super Moon try this post:

Super Moon: Symbolic Spiritual Meaning

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