Tag Archives: Amateur Astronomers Inc.

Lunar Mythbusting

Tonight is October 8th, which has been declared International Observe the Moon Night (IOMN).  Personally, I would choose a date as close to September 13th as possible to take a jab at the late Gerry Anderson and his bit of lunar lunacy known as “Space: 1999”.  Yes, I know I missed that date as well on this blog, but I had other issues to deal with.  With IOMN clouded and/or rained out tonight for a large portion of the United States, I thought I would provide some educational lunar entertainment to make up for it.  So, I dusted off an article I wrote for the Asterism (AAI’s long-defunct newsletter) and I’m using it for material here.

Some years ago, I went to a convention and saw Dee Wallace, best known for playing the mom in E.T. The Extraterrestrial. She was quite nice and she was also there to push DVDs of “The Howling”, a werewolf movie she was in. I took the opportunity to explain to her that I didn’t find werewolf stuff too interesting due to my knowledge of the Moon and the fact that it exerts no strange influences. Dee agreed, but she said that the myths about the Moon were quite pervasive in popular culture, even after the Apollo astronauts walked on the Moon without anything strange happening to them. So, let’s take a detailed look at why the Moon, while interesting, is not mystical.

Time and Tides: People who believe in the mystical powers of the Moon often point out that it could exert its spooky actions through tidal forces. On the surface, this might seem reasonable. After all, anyone who has spent more than a few hours by the ocean or a bay has noticed that the water rises and falls due to tides. Some have argued that, since the ocean is water and people are mostly water in terms of composition, lunar tides should affect people and their behavior. They point to claims of increased weird behavior at times of full Moon and then the old stories always say that werewolves change from people to beasts at full Moon.

However, the “Full Moon effect” has been shown to be false by numerous statistical studies. Also, if one knows how tides work, it is easy to see that they cannot influence living beings.  Tides result when the side of an object nearest a gravity source experiences a greater pull than the opposite side does.  In the case of the oceans, the sea facing the Moon is about 8,000 miles closer to the Moon than the ocean on the opposite side of the Earth. Since the Moon is about a quarter of a million miles away, the diameter of the Earth is a measurable fraction of that distance and the ocean feels the effect of the difference.

Now, consider the case of a human being. To make things as fair as possible to the werewolf buffs, our example will be a player from the NBA who is seven feet tall. The difference in the pull of lunar gravity between the top of his head and the soles of his feet is so close to zero that it can be considered zero for any practical purpose. Even the varying distance of the Moon from Earth (the Moon’s orbit is slightly elliptical), while important for ocean tides, does not alter this conclusion.

It could be argued that tides do influence some living creatures since a number of sea animals lay eggs at times of very high tides. This is the result of their biological clocks, not lunar influence. And they are not infallible tide predictors as the large number of horseshoe crabs that die stranded on beaches each spring can attest to.

Blinded By The Light: Anyone who has been at an observatory on a public night during a full Moon knows it can appear very bright, especially through the telescopes. This brightness is deceptive. Actually the Moon reflects light about as well as the pavement of a road (an albedo of about 7%). It appears bright because the Moon is surrounded by nonreflecting space, so even a dark object like would appear bright. But that is not the whole story.

It is known that the full Moon appears about ten times as bright as it does at first or third quarter. Before people knew much about the Moon, this must have appeared strange. But there are two reasons for this effect. First of all, during full Moon, the Sun is overhead as seen from the lunar surface. There are no shadows. At other times, there are always some shadows formed by mountains and crater rims. But the other reason was only discovered after the Apollo missions returned lunar samples to Earth.

Most of the Moon is covered in a layer of dust, which is essentially lunar rock that has been pulverized by eons of micrometeorite impacts. When samples of this dust were studied on Earth, it was discovered that there were numerous tiny bits of glass in it. The glass formed as the impacts of micrometeorites melted little bits of surface material. The bits of glass give lunar dust a weak retroreflective property like those reflectors embedded in many roads. Due to this effect, the lunar dust actually reflects a bit more light towards Earth at full Moon.

No Cheese, Green or Otherwise: The final proof against strange lunar influence is the composition of the Moon itself. It is now widely believed that Moon formed as the result of a collision between Earth and a Mars-sized planetesimal in the early days of the solar system, which sent debris from the Earth’s mantle into space.

Because of this origin, only about a dozen minerals make up the Moon. Besides basalt and anorthosite (basic igneous rocks), most of these are oxides of iron, titanium, chromium, aluminum as well as some silicates, along with some minerals rich in potassium and rare earth elements. Recently, something new has been added to this list. In 1998, the Lunar Prospector probe found evidence of hydrogen-rich material in some permanently shaded craters near the lunar South Pole. While it could be buried water ice from ancient comet impacts, hydrated minerals and cometary hydrocarbons have not been ruled out. While this mix of minerals is interesting to those who want to build lunar bases, it is about as non-mystical as one can get.

As one can see, the Moon is an interesting place with great potential importance for humanity’s future. Now, isn’t this far more interesting and exciting than mysticism and werewolf stories?


Glenn Wargo’s Astrology Notes #14

Due to the long pause in postings,  here is a heaping helping of horoscopic humor from AAI’s Glenn Wargo.


Fashion: Since Asteroid 4 Vesta was in conjunction with the Sun on 1/11, this will be the proper season for 3-piece suits.

Relationships: Asteroid 3 Juno was in opposition on 1/29.  Expect to take flak from your spouse if you stayed up to observe Jupiter.

With Comet Lovejoy (C2014/Q2) sparkling between Andromeda and her hero Perseus, the first half of February is a time to spark up the romance with your sweetheart. Flowers, candy, fine food, even jewelry can help, but loving words and tender attention are also essential.

Weather: With Mercury at minimal elongation around 1/30, look for the rest of January and early February to be chilly.

Finance: Nearly stationary Pluto is relaxing with the Teapot in Sagittarius while Hercules, The Strong Man, is up at dawn. The Fed will remain blissfully unconcerned about inflation while sports authorities strive to tackle the problem.

Nutrition: With gas giant Jupiter up all night in opposition on 2/06, you’d be well advised to skip “seconds” on the cabbage and bean casserole.  Heck, skip “firsts” if you think you can get away with it.  And with a very noticeable Moon on Leo for 2/04-06, it’s time to put your cat on a diet.

Glenn Wargo’s Astrology Notes #13

Due to the long pause in postings,  here is a heaping helping of horoscopic humor from AAI’s Glenn Wargo.


Weather: With Mercury in superior conjunction with the Sun on 12/08, expect more seasonable temperatures (which we had at the time, but then we got hit with this cold snap later in the month – The Astronomer)

Correspondence: With Jupiter stationary on 12/09, expect a letter from the electric company, even if it’s just a bill.

Politics:  Mars will be at perihelion (only 128.4 million miles from the Sun) on 12/12. Look for the newly nominated Secretary of Defense to be on the hot seat at Senate hearings.

Science: Asteroid 3 Juno was stationary on 12/14.  But, as usual, it won’t be long before Jupiter gets involved in shenanigans his wife will NOT stand still for.

Sports: With Mercury, swift-flying courier of the gods, not making it above the trees at the end of the day, don’t expect to find the Jets in postseason play (Another one of Glenn’s prediction that proved to be quite true – The Astronomer).

Travel: With Uranus stationary on 12/22, expect frustrating travel delays this week.

Mood Swings:  With Saturn, the ancient god of Time, in Scorpius, the sting of regret for paths not chosen and now forever closed is hitting you hard.   Soon you’ll feel like throwing away your calendar (Predicted accurately on 12/29/2014 – The Astronomer).

Weather: With the Earth at perihelion (only 91.4 million miles from the Sun) on 1/04 as the Quadrantid meteor shower from the obsolete constellation of Quadrans Muralis (the Wall Quadrant) continues to rain down, you’ll feel like staying inside your walls and snuggling up to something warm.

Glenn Wargo’s Astrology Notes #12

This time around,  AAI’s Glenn Wargo has come across a celestial circumstance that even he has some difficulty in deciding what it means.  See below.


Politics: With asteroid 23 Thalia, The Muse of Comedy, going into opposition on 12/02 in Taurus The Bull, Congress will reconvene for a lame duck session.


Entertainment:  You may be about to run afoul of an extraordinarily multitalented Mexican pop star.

The omens are somewhat cloudy.

Weather: Oh, did I mention?  Cloudy.

Glenn Wargo’s Astrology Notes #11

Mostly due to being very busy at work, I haven’t been posting all that often.  In honor of Thanksgiving Day, here is a feast of horoscope humor from AAI’s Glenn Wargo spanning the month of November.  Happy Thanksgiving to all readers of this blog that celebrate it.  If you live in a country that doesn’t have Thanksgiving Day, have a good time anyway.


Personal: With the Moon at apogee (251,243 miles from Earth) on 11/14, it’s time to ‘apogize’ for your faults.  Don’t be too specific.  It would only lead to trouble.

Asteroid 6 Hebe will be at opposition in Eridanus The River on 11/15. Thinking about pollutants still lying in a nearby river bed could give you the heebie jeebies.

Sports: With Philae riding a comet but having run out of energy, odds are the Eagles will have an exciting finish to the season, but not win the Super Bowl(tm).

As the Europeans are all over 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko, they will expect the Americans to handle Putin. There are enough Russians to go around.

Neptune being stationary on 11/16, the surfing scene on the Jersey shore will remain pretty much frozen for weeks to come.

Business: With the Moon at First Quarter on 11/29, be prepared to feed the downtown parking meters on Small Business Saturday.


Glenn Wargo’s Astrology Notes #10

Since this is the most popular feature on the blog, here are all the recent installments of AAI’s Glenn Wargo’s cosmic comments that I should have posted in the last few weeks.  Enjoy.


Personal: With the 3.96 magnitude star 10 Ursae Majoris in Lynx since 1928, stay alert as you dig out the winter clothing.  You may spot something you misplaced a long time ago.

Health: With Uranus going into opposition on 10/07, keep a few things in mind:  Fiber.  Roughage.  Stool softener.

Style: Total eclipse of the Moon at 06:51 EDT October 8 will look best from the West Coast and Pacific.  A sure sign Jersey girls have packed their sarongs away until next summer.

News: With Ophiuchus the Healer setting in the west in the evening sky, you will see shortcomings of western medicine reported on the evening news.

News: Earth is coming into position to view the orbital plane of Jupiter’s Galilean moons exactly edge-on, which makes a “season” of moon-on-moon occultations possible.  Io will pass in front of Callisto before dawn on 10/24.  So, expect to see a heightened interest in the occult, at least through the end of October.

News: Mars was narrowly (about 81,000 miles) missed by comet Siding Spring on 10/19.  Expect to see the Turkish military keep its head down in the battle with ISIL/ISIS/IS.

News: Jupiter is now safely in Leo, having survived Cancer.  There is new hope that our medical problems can be solved.

Weather: With Mercury stationary on 10/25, look for cool temperatures to continue through autumn.

Personal: Asteroid 37 Fides having brushed by Uranus during October, you may now have some new friends at the dog park.

Glenn Wargo’s Astrology Notes #9

Sorry about the delay.  Here is another dose of Glenn Wargo’s amusing astrological observations.  (used with permission)


Weather: With Mercury at greatest elongation (26 deg. east of the Sun) on 9/21, expect cooler temperatures for the rest of the year.

Finance: As Pluto is stationary on 9/22, do not look for banking reforms during Congress’ lame duck session after Election Day.

Television: With the Moon under Ceres on 9/27, brace for another season of “The Biggest Loser”.

Personal: With the Moon very close to Saturn on 9/27, check for that missing ring in the back pocket of your pants.