'Supermoon' Has No Connection to Japanese Earthquake

Moon affects tides, not earthquakes.

ByABC News
March 9, 2011, 3:41 PM

March 11, 2011 -- Although it's more than a week away, some people say the devastating 8.9-magnitude earthquake that hit Japan today could be caused by the supermoon.

During the supermoon, expected to occur March 19, the moon won't just be at its closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, enthusiasts say, it will be closer to Earth than it has been in 18 years.

Scientists, including Paul Walker, senior meteorologist for AccuWeather Inc., said there is no connection between the moon's position and Japan's earthquake.

"I don't think you can attribute it to being a full moon, which is still eight days away," Walker said. "These moon events can cause the tides to run higher than normal, but I've not heard of any correlation between them and extreme weather events."

NASA astronomer Dave Williams agreed.

"At the time of the earthquake in Japan, the moon was actually closer to its furthest point in orbit from Earth than it was to its March 19 closest point, so the gravitational effect of the moon was, in fact, less than average at that time," Williams wrote in an e-mail to ABCNews.com. "It was basically a normal day on Earth as far as the lunar gravity and tidal forces were concerned. Unless the Earth somehow 'knew' the supermoon was coming, I can't imagine any scientific connection between the two events."

AccuWeather blogger Mark Paquette said he thinks the phrase "supermoon" originated on the website of astrologer Richard Nolle and spread to astronomers online.

In a blog post earlier this month, Paquette said a new or full moon at 90 percent or more of its closest perigee qualifies as a "supermoon." The moon's orbit around us is slightly elliptical, and when the moon is at the near point, it is known as a lunar perigee.

Next weekend's full moon won't just be a supermoon but an extreme supermoon, he said, because the moon will be almost precisely at its closest distance to Earth.

According to "new age" forecasts, he said, the supermoon brings strong earthquakes, storms or unusual climate patterns.

"There were supermoons in 1955, 1974, 1992 and 2005," Paquette wrote. "These years had their share of extreme weather and other natural events. Is the Super Moon and these natural occurrences a coincidence?

"Some would say yes; some would say no," he added. "I'm not here to pick sides and say I'm a believer or non-believer in subjects like this, but as a scientist I know enough to ask questions and try to find answers."