Demystifying The Moon

Sabriyya Ghanizada, EcoNews Intern

Phases of the moon over the ocean. Artwork by Raven E. Marshall

The word lunacy is derived from the latin word, lunaticus, which translates to moonstruck. Fables of the moon causing intermittent insanity in humans have taken on many iterations; for centuries tales of werewolves have been told around the campfire and silver screen alike, to warn of the mythical creatures’ arrival at the full Moon. Some theorize that our bodies being made up of 60 percent water equates to an emotional or physical effect on humans since the Moon has proven effect on the Earth’s tides. While there has been very little in the western and scientific world view of the Moon to prove any of these claims, there is data to back up that the light from a full Moon can make for more sleepless nights. One thing is for sure, the Moon, Earth’s one and only natural satellite, affects Earth’s tides and its light can have effects on biological rhythms here on Earth. 

Though you may be familiar with the full Moon and new Moon, the Moon experiences several phases throughout its orbit. Lecturer in the department of Physics at Cal Poly Humboldt, Tyler Mitchell, explained the cycle that a moon goes through in an entire month, or a ‘moonth’ if you will. “If we are starting at the new Moon,” Mitchell said, “we start with the waxing crescent and move on to the first quarter Moon, then its half Moon, waxing gibbous, onto the full Moon. From the full Moon it wanes to waning gibbous and the third quarter Moon waning crescent back to the new Moon.”

C.D. Hoyle, a professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy, described the relationship between the Earth and the Moon due to their attraction by gravitational force. “The sun is a big massive object so it pulls on all of the planets that surround it,” Hoyle said, “Think of a string on a ball, the Sun’s gravity pulls on all the planets to keep them in orbit. The Earth pulls on the Moon and keeps it on an orbit around the Earth,” said Hoyle. 

It’s important to note that while very bright, especially at the full Moon, the light from the Sun is reflected by the Moon. “The Sun is the only light source in the solar system, except on a new Moon, you can kind of see the Moon in a way that’s light from the earth reflecting on the new Moon,” Mitchell said, “That’s called Earthshine and you can see the other part is dimly lit up. Any illumination on the dark part of the moonbeam is light reflected from the Earth.” 

Even though the Moon orbits around the Earth, we are only ever getting one perspective of it. The Moon is tidally locked to the Earth, so we have only ever seen the same side of it as it rotates. “Every time the Moon orbits the earth it rotates exactly one time,” Mitchell said. “The rotation and orbit is the same for the Moon, so it rotates slowly, so the same side faces us.” 

Tamara B. Barriquand, an assistant professor at Cal Poly Humboldt, specializes in air-sea interactions and fluid dynamics. She explained that the biggest thing the Moon affects on Earth is the tides. “Ocean tides everyone is familiar with because we see the rise and fall of the coastline,” Barriquand said. “What is actually happening is the Moon is creating planetary-length waves that propagate as shallow water waves.”

According to Barrinquand, during both a new Moon and a full Moon we have the biggest tidal ranges. These are the highest high tides and the lowest low tides, called spring tides. King tides are extremely high spring tides. King tides occur during either a new Moon or a full Moon when the Moon is closest to the Earth (called perigee) and the Earth is closest to the Sun (called perihelion). 

“That absolutely affects the organisms and organisms are very much affected by the tides. We see migrations of organisms in the tides and organisms live in intertidal zones and adapt to when the water level rises and when the water recedes,” said Barriquand. Organisms like barnacles, oysters and sea stars have adapted to the tides. According to National Geographic, barnacles, along with mussels, adapt by holding on to water during low tides. When the Pacific Ocean’s water has reached the right temperature for roughly a month, Australia’s great barrier reef has an annual mass spawning  around the full Moon in November, releasing hundreds of sperm and eggs.

Moon Cycles

Many cultures refer to the Moon as being feminine and look to the Moon as a sign of fertility. In her book, Red Moon—Understanding and Using the Creative, Sexual and Spiritual Gifts of the Menstrual Cycle, author Miranda Gray explains the significance of the two traditional menstruation patterns some cultures have followed.  The average length of a Moon cycle (28 days) is similar to that of a menstrual cycle (29.5 days) and for those assigned female at birth, a menstrual cycle may fall in line with the phases of the moon. A menstrual cycle that falls in line with the new Moon cycle may be known as a white Moon cycle while a full Moon cycle is known as a red Moon cycle. Tracking your menstrual cycle with the phases of the moon can help you find out which cycle you may be on.

Sabriyya Ghanizada is an Intern with EcoNews for the Spring. A Journalism News Major at Cal Poly Humboldt, Sabriyya has written published pieces for each of the student-run publications: The Lumberjack, El Lenador and Osprey Magazine. Currently, she is the Editor-In-Chief of Osprey running a humble nine-person team. Sabriyya currently has her eyes set for graduation in Spring 2022.