The full Moon has a reputation for trouble. It raises high tides, it makes dogs howl, it wakes you up in the middle of the night with beams of moonlight stealing through drapes. If a moonbeam wakes you up on the night of May 5th, 2012, you might want to get out of bed and take a look. This May’s full Moon is a “super Moon,” as much as 14% bigger and 30% brighter than other full Moons of 2012.
The scientific term for the phenomenon is “perigee moon.” Full Moons vary in size because of the oval shape of the Moon’s orbit. The Moon follows an elliptical path around Earth with one side (“perigee”) about 50,000 km closer than the other (“apogee”). Full Moons that occur on the perigee side of the Moon’s orbit seem extra big and bright.
Such is the case on May 5th at 10:34 pm when the Moon reaches perigee. Only one minute later, the Moon will line up with Earth and the sun to become brilliantly full. The timing is almost perfect.
Okay, the Moon is 14% bigger than usual, but can you really tell the difference? It’s tricky. There are no rulers floating in the sky to measure lunar diameters. Hanging high overhead with no reference points to provide a sense of scale, one full Moon can seem much like any other.
The best time to look is when the Moon is near the horizon. For reasons not fully understood by astronomers or psychologists, low-hanging Moons look unnaturally large when they beam through trees, buildings and other foreground objects. On May 5th, this Moon illusion will amplify a full Moon that’s extra-big to begin with. The swollen orb rising in the east at sunset should seem super indeed.
Folklore holds that all kinds of wacky things happen under the light of a full Moon. Supposedly, hospital admissions increase, the crime rate ticks upward, and people behave strangely. The idea that the full Moon causes mental disorders was widespread in the Middle Ages. Even the word “lunacy,” meaning “insanity,” comes from the Latin word for “Moon.”
The majority of modern studies, however, show no correlation between the phase of the Moon and the incidence of crime, sickness, or human behavior. The truth is, the Moon is less influential than folklore would have us believe. (CLICK HERE for a University of Washington compilation of related studies–some which do show a relationship)