On Wednesday, all three phenomena align. To us here on Earth, if we’re in the best viewing spots on the planet and the weather’s good, the moon will appear less silvery gray and more orangey red.
So, there’s nothing scary about the super blue blood moon. There’s nothing scientific about the name, either, as Matt Simon in Wired thoroughly explains here. But the wording is catchy and click-y and, in recent years, widely used on the internet. NASA has leaned into it with press releases and dramatic videos bearing the foreboding name. (Our less dramatic neighbors to the north, at the Canadian Space Agency, have opted not to use the term in promotional materials.) The name has the potential for widespread appeal, and provides a way in for the average person to become interested in learning about some celestial alignments in our cosmic home.
That’s what Richard Nolle had in mind, when he coined the term “supermoon” in 1979.
“‘Perigee syzygy’ is something that the average sixth-grader can’t handle, and that’s the average reading capability of the American adult,” Nolle said, referring to the term for a full moon during the moon’s closest approach to the planet. “So I figured we needed something a little more euphonic.”
Nolle is an astrologer based in Tempe, Arizona, who has been writing about supermoons for years and says the moon, when it is at its nearest to Earth, can contribute and influence geophysical activity, like earthquakes and volcanoes, and affect human behavior.
The idea that moon phases correlate with seismic activity has been frequently debunked by scientific research, and astrology is not a science field (though, as my colleague Julie Beck wrote recently, it’s enjoying a bit of a renaissance among Millennials.)
Nolle is credited with coming up with the term “supermoon,” even by his field’s skeptics. He first used it in an article in Dell Horoscope, an astrology magazine whose website includes horoscopes and stock-market outlooks. He said he first became interested in learning about the moon’s terrestrial implications when he taught sailing for the U.S. Navy in the 1980s.
“When you’re sailing in and out of the Sebastian Inlet or anywhere on the Atlantic coast, you become extremely aware of the tides,” Nolle said. “Because depending on the keel of your boat, you may or may not be able to get through. Anytime you’ve got a high tide, and particularly a supermoon-amplified high tide, it’s really easy to get in and out of the channel.”
Nolle has written astrological predictions based on celestial alignments each year for decades. He said he first started noticing the term “supermoon” in popular and mainstream news reports in 2009. “I noticed that some meteorologists began using it,” he said. “Science writers began using it in their articles. Naturally, I was delighted.”