The West

Supermoon lights up the sky
The full moon rises behind a steeple with crosses of an Orthodox church in the town of Novogrudok, Belarus. Picture: AP

The biggest and brightest full moon of the year arrived last night as our celestial neighbour passed closer to Earth than usual.

But don't expect any "must have been a full moon" spike in crime or crazy behaviour. That's just folklore.

Saturday's event was a "supermoon", the closest and therefore the biggest and brightest full moon of the year. The moon came within about 357,000km from Earth. That's about 24,600km closer than average.

That proximity makes the moon appear about 14 percent bigger than it would if the moon were at its farthest distance, said Geoff Chester of the U.S. Naval Observatory. The difference in appearance is so small that "you'd be very hard-pressed to detect that with the unaided eye," he said.

The moon's distance from Earth varies because it follows an elliptical orbit rather than a circular one.

Like any full moon, the supermoon looks bigger when it's on or near the horizon rather than higher in the sky, thanks to an optical illusion, Mr Chester said.

The supermoon will bring unusually high tides because of its closeness and its alignment with the sun and Earth, but the effect will be modest, Mr Chester said.

But no matter how far away a full moon is, it's not going to make people commit crimes, get admitted to a psychiatric hospital or do anything else that popular belief suggests, a psychologist says.

Studies that have tried to document such connections have found "pretty much a big mound of nothing, as far as I can tell," said Scott Lilienfeld of Emory University.

Mr Lilienfeld, an author of "50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology", said the notion of full moons causing bizarre behaviour ranks among the top 10 myths because "it's so widely held and it's held with such conviction".

Mr Lilienfeld said a key reason could be the way people pay attention to things. If something unusual happens to occur during a full moon, people who believe the myth take note and remember, even telling other people because it confirms their ideas. But when another full moon appears and nothing out of the ordinary occurs, "they're not very likely to remember" or point it out to others.

So in the end, he said, all they remember are the coincidences.

The West Australian

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