Trilobites: Debunking the Myth That Earthquakes and Full Moons Are Linked

Trilobites: Debunking the Myth That Earthquakes and Full Moons Are Linked

There is some sound science connecting Earth’s temblors and the moon. That’s because during full and new moons, Earth, the sun and the moon fall along a nearly straight line. This celestial alignment tugs at our planet, raising tides in the oceans and in the solid earth.

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That effect is far too weak to cause an earthquake on its own. But should the moon’s gravitational pull tug at a fault that is dangerously close to rupture, a temblor is not impossible.

“It’s not some wild crazy idea,” Dr. Hough said.

But the gravitational effect is vanishingly small and only occurs under narrow circumstances, so it would never translate into a pronounced force — certainly not one that can be seen in a calendar or used to make predictions.

In 2004, for example, Elizabeth Cochran, a geophysicist with the U.S.G.S. who was not involved in this study, and her colleagues published a study that did show a slight increase in the number of earthquakes during low tides — but only those in deep ocean basins.

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Two years ago, a study by Satoshi Ide, a seismologist at the University of Tokyo, and his colleagues made headlines when it suggested that the number of high-magnitude earthquakes (like the one that occurred in Sumatra) also increases slightly as tidal stresses rise.

But again, this effect is so small that the probability an earthquake will occur during any given full moon remains no different than on any other day of the lunar cycle.

Such a minute change doesn’t help scientists predict when large earthquakes might occur, nor does it help regular citizens and emergency responders. There is simply too little power in the lunar tides.

In short, Dr. Hough’s study “debunks the prevalent superstition some people have that the moon tells us something about the danger,” said John Vidale, a seismologist at the University of Southern California who directs the Southern California Earthquake Center and was not involved in the new study.

Unfortunately, Dr. Hough doesn’t think the superstition will disappear anytime soon. But she hopes that studies like this can slowly chip away at the misconceptions, helping the public eventually realize that, no, the next full moon will not spawn a series of apocalyptic earthquakes.

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