To the Daily Mail, were the astrophysicists busy today?

You may remember this article here where I remarked that the Daily Mail were being a bit hypocritical by “trying hard to “love science” while doing everything to push an anti science agenda.”

Well it turns out that while Japan was slowly sliding into the sea (or vice versa) they decided to put their own little spin on it. Now in my defense I shouldn’t be as wound up about this as I am. Since I first saw an article on it I was half expecting some stupid results. It all starts with the Moon.

Yes Luna, our faithful companion in the night sky and in Daily Mail world, a killer intent on killing as many people as it can get!  Now as any scientist, and schoolchild will tell you the Moon orbits the earth, not in a perfect circle but in an ellipse now because the shape is irregular there is a period when the moon is closer and a period when it’s further away (called perigee and apogee) Not only that, but the moon has influences on the Earth, the most well known of these is surely the effect it has on our tides, the moon effectively, pulls the ocean with it like a zipper, since the side facing the moon feels the gravity more. When the Sun, Moon and Earth line up, we have exceptionally high/low tides.

Silent, but deadly?

Now we have established the science, let’s move on to the pseudoscience. The Mail is carrying a report that has done the rounds the past few weeks with an alarming lack of research.  Astrologers claim that when the Moon is at perigee it has enough gravitational pull to cause serious earthquakes,tsunamis, Volcanoes and Charlie sheen on Earth.

Some useful information Via Phil Plait and his “Bad astronomy blog:

The Moon was at apogee on March 6, and will be at perigee on March 19. When the earthquake in Japan hit last night, the Moon was about 400,000 (240,000 miles) away. So not only was it not at its closest point, it was actually farther away than it usually is on average.

So naturally the Mail leaped on this old hocus pocus with yet another alarming story, the headline of which reads:

Is the Japanese earthquake the latest natural disaster to have been caused by a ‘supermoon’?

Well put simply no, while the force of the moons gravity (Remember it’s 1/8th of the Earths but the moon is pretty damn big) is enough to influence the tides, it is far too weak to cause what is one of the largest seismic events in modern times, even throwing in the gravity of the Sun and we just have higher tides.

The main failing with this article is despite asking a geologist the article still puts far too much emphasis on the Astrology side (What were all the astrophysicists busy today?) Astrology has been proven time and time again to be bunk, yet the Mail still put a lot of belief in it.  The astrologer in question is Richard Nolle a man who came up with the whole “supermoon” idea back in the 70’s.

Perhaps someone should ask him a simple question, since the moon orbits once every 27 days, why doesn’t the Earth rip itself apart? A difference of 4000 km isn’t going to make much of a difference, maybe the mail should google “Cancer” and stick with what they’re good at. Yet again the Mail leaps tastelessly onto a truly historical event (at the time of writing the deathtoll stands at around 500) and spins it into their pseudoscience web, not only does this cause panic amongst people but means that Astrophysicists, Astronomers and those who are “Padwan astrophysicists” get another barrage of inane questions.

In honor of this disgusting attempt at needless panic I present a small gift in honor of them

If you or someone you know has been affected by Daily Mail induced Supermoon fear, please check out these other sites which also prove how horrifically inaccurate this story is at:

Atomic Spin

Phil Plait’s Bad astronomy

Ben Goldacre


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