The moon is a wonderful, fascinating and beautiful thing. On a night when the sky is clear, the stars and out and the moon is full and bright, it never fails to draw the eye.
Throughout mans existence this heavenly body has served as both myth-maker and a scientific explanation for so many things that happen here on earth:
- The word lunatic comes from the Latin luna, because it was believed that people were more likely to exhibit aberrant behavior during a full moon. Although studies have been done showing that emergency room visits and accidents are increased during the full moon period, there has yet to be conclusive evidence for causation.
- The moon seems to have an effect on animals as well as people. A Florida expert on animal behavior reports that hamsters spin in their wheels far more aggressively during the moon’s full phase. Deer and other herbivores in the wild tend to ovulate at the full moon, and in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the full moon is mating time for coral.
- The Strange Case of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, by Robert Louis Stevenson, was inspired by the strange — and yet very true — case of Charles Hyde, a London man who committed a series of crimes at the time of the full moon.
- There is a British legend that if Christmas fell on the day of a dark Moon, the following year’s harvest would be a bountiful one. Some parts of the British Isles believed that a waxing moon on Christmas meant a good crop the next fall, but a waning moon indicated a bad one would come.
- In some countries, a halo around the moon means bad weather is coming.
- The first time you see a crescent moon for the month, take all your spare coins out of your pocket, and put them in the other pocket. This will ensure good luck for the next month.
- Some people believe that the fifth day after a full moon is the perfect time to try to conceive a child.
- In some Chinese religions, offerings are made to the ancestors on the night of a full moon.
- In some Native American legends, the moon is held captive by a hostile tribe. A pair of antelope hope to rescue the moon and take it the village of a good tribe, but Coyote, the trickster, interferes. The antelope chase Coyote, who tosses the moon into a river each night, just out of reach of the antelope.
- The night of the full moon is believed to be a good time for divination and scrying.
And amazingly enough, now we can add one more to this already amazing tally.
The rain, you see, follows the moon through its phases and scientists have no idea how or why:
The Zuni Indians thought a red moon brought water. Seventeenth-century English farmers believed in a “dripping moon,” which supplied rain depending on whether its crescent was tilted up or down. Now scientists have found evidence for another adage: Rain follows the full and new phases of the moon.
Most studies on the weather and moon phases appeared in the 1960s and seemed to lend credence to lunar folklore. Researchers detected more peaks in rainfall in the days after the full and new moons, for example. Recently, three researchers decided to revive the issue when they stumbled across a link between moon phases and stream runoff while working on another project. They will soon publish in Geophysical Research Letters one of the most comprehensive studies yet, with more than a century of data from across the continental United States.
The researchers, a team comprised of geographers and climatologists from Arizona State University (ASU), Tempe, and the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) in Asheville, North Carolina, first analyzed their original stream runoff finding in more depth, pulling data from almost 11,000 U.S. Geological Survey stations on inland streams that had runoff measurements from as far back as 1900. After calculating the moon’s phase for each measurement, they discovered a slight increase in stream flow around the quarter moon, halfway between the full and new moons.
The researchers still aren’t sure how the moon exerts this effect. Most guesses also come from the 1960s and ’70s. Back then, some scientists suggested that the moon’s orbit could distort the magnetosphere, a region of ionized particles surrounding Earth’s protective magnetic field. This might allow more particles from space into the atmosphere, where they could trigger rain when they collide with clouds. Others speculated that the moon’s orbit could increase the amount of meteoric dust reaching Earth, which could also trigger rain when it hit clouds, or that the moon could create a pressure bulge that would affect storm systems—a hypothesis floated by the study’s lead author, Randall Cerveny of ASU Tempe.
Still, says Cerveny, the true mechanism remains elusive. “We’ve kind of taken it back one link,” Cerveny says. “Hopefully, other people are going to work the chain back to the ultimate cause.“
The moon is magic, how’s that for a cause?
Not very scientific it’s true, but sometimes it’s just more fun:
- Even a man who is pure in heart
- and says his prayers by night
- may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms
- and the autumn moon is bright.
Tis the season and all that, after all.
Why not revel in it?