Lunar perigee: Is the Japanese earthquake the latest natural disaster to have been caused by a 'supermoon'?
Daily Mail Reporter
Last updated at 12:05 PM on 11th March 2011
The powerful tsunami that today slammed into Japan's eastern coast comes just two days after the Internet was awash with warnings that the movement of the moon will trigger tidal waves, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes.
Some experts have claimed that on March 19 - a week tomorrow - the moon will be closer to Earth than at any time since 1992, just 221,567 miles away, and that its gravitational pull will bring chaos to Earth.
Astronomers have dismissed the claims, which centre on a phenomenon called the 'lunar perigee', as pure nonsense.
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A whirlpool caused by currents from a tsunami near the port of Oarai after Japan was struck by a strong earthquake off its north-eastern coast today. The disaster comes two days after online warnings that the movement of the moon will trigger tidal waves, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes
But today's 8.9 Magnitude earthquake comes less than a day after at least 24 people were killed and more than 200 injured following an quake in China's extreme south-west near the border with Myanmar.
Japan itself had another 7.2 Magnitude earthquake earlier this week, while the devastation caused to Christchurch in New Zealand in February took place four days after a 'supermoon'.
But while the vast majority of scientists dismisses the theory that a lunar perigee has an effect on Earth's natural order, a small but vocal minority of astrologers insist that it does.
SEISMICALLY ACTIVE - JAPAN'S LONG HISTORY OF EARTHQUAKES
Earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas.
The country accounts for about 20 per cent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater.
Several continental and oceanic plates meet in the Japan area, which is why there are so many volcanoes and hot springs across the nation.
Located in a volcanic zone so active it is nicknamed the Pacific Ring of Fire, catastrophic earthquakes occur several times each century.
Japan has suffered an estimated 200 recorded tsunamis in its history due to earthquakes that take place below or close to the Pacific Ocean.
In October 2004, an earthquake with a magnitude of 6.8 struck the Niigata region in northern Japan, killing 65 people and injuring more than 3,000.
That was the deadliest quake since a magnitude 7.3 tremor hit the city of Kobe in 1995, killing more than 6,400.
Furthermore, the moon is currently at its furthest point - or apogee - from Earth so cannot have had any effect on today's Japanese earthquake, they argue.
But U.S. astrologer Richard Nolle, who coined the term 'supermoon' in 1979, is convinced that lunar perigees cause natural disasters on Earth.
He said the recent supermoon on February 18 helps explain the earthquake that struck New Zealand on February 22.
'Supermoons have a historical association with strong storms, very high tides, extreme tides and also earthquakes,' he told ABC radio this week.
'Supermoons are like eclipses. We have roughly five to six per year
and so it can be very close to Earth but we don't have to have one at
the maximum close approach to have a notable effect.'
The moon's orbit around Earth is not a circle, but an eclipse. At its closest approach - the perigee - the moon appears brighter and larger in the sky. When it is furthest away - the apogee - it is smaller and dimmer.
A lunar perigee occurs once a month. However, next week's perigee coincides with a full moon - a combination of events that happen just once every two or three years.
Although it makes a good photo opportunity for astronomers, scientists say it has no impact on Earth.
Dr David Harland, space historian and author, said: 'It's possible that the moon may be a kilometre or two closer to Earth than normal at a perigee, but it's an utterly insignificant event. '
But the Internet is awash with conspiracy-minded amateur scientists warning that such a 'supermoon' could disrupt Earth's climate patterns and may even cause earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Previous supermoons took place in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005 - all years that had extreme weather events, the supporters of the supermoon theory say.
The tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people in Indonesia happened two weeks before the January 2005 supermoon. And on Christmas Day 1974, Cyclone Tracy laid waste to Darwin, Australia.
But earthquakes are common in Japan, one of the world's most seismically active areas.
The country accounts for about 20 per cent of the world's earthquakes of magnitude 6 or greater and on average, an earthquake occurs every five minutes.
Pete Wheeler of the International Centre for Radio Astronomy greeted warnings of an impending apocalypse with scepticism.
'There will be no earthquakes or volcanoes erupting, unless they are to happen anyway,' he told news.com.au.
'Earth will experience just a lower than usual low tide and a higher than usual high tide around the time of the event, but nothing to get excited about.'
The tsunami waters flood into Iwaki in the north-eastern area of Japan today
Tsunami travel times: The earthquake struck off the coast of Japan at 6am GMT his morning
Australian astronomer David Reneke agreed, pointing out that
conspiracy theorists will always be able to find a natural disaster to
link to a certain time and blame it on a supermoon.
'If you try hard enough you can chronologically associate almost any
natural disaster or event to anything in the night sky - comet, planet,
sun,' he said.
'Remember in the past, planetary alignments were going to pull the
sun apart. It didn't happen. Astrologers draw a very long bow most
'Normal king tides are about all I would expect out of this supermoon prediction.'
During a full moon, the sun and the moon are pulling on Earth from opposite sides - making the chances of any dramatic tidal events unlikely.
On average the moon is 235,000 miles away. At its furthest it is 248,000 miles away. During a lunar perigee and full moon, the lunar surface can appear up to 14 per cent bigger and 30 per cent brighter than other full moons.
Forecast model: The Pacific Tsunami Warning Center in Hawaii has predicted the wave height of the tsunami crossing the Pacific Ocean following this morning's earthquake
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