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No. 100: Jul-Aug 1995

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How can the moon affect the earth's temperature?

Several weather phenomena, such as precipitation and thunderstorm frequency, have been linked to the phase of the moon. Now, it seems that the moon's "cold" emanations can also raise the earth's temperature. Explaining how the moon's phase can have any warming effect at all on the earth's atmosphere is difficult, because the infrared energy received from the moon is only 10-5 that in sunlight. Nevertheless, a slight but statistically significant temperature effect does exist.

In one study, the microwave emission of molecular oxygen was measured by a polar-orbit satellite. These data gave meteorologists the temperatures of the lowest 6 kilometers of the atmosphere from all areas of the planet. The temperature difference between full moon and new moon was only 0.02C, with the full-moon temperature being the higher. (Ref. 1)

A second study took actual surface temperatures measured at noon GMT each day at 51,200 locations around the world. These near-surface temperatures revealed a difference of 0.2C between full and new moons -- ten times larger than that from the satellite study. (Ref. 2)

0.2C and even 0.02C are much too large to be attributed to direct lunar "heating." Instead, geophysicists wonder if the moon's orbit modulates the influx of meteoric dust which may affect solar heating of the earth by absorption.


Ref. 1. Balling, Robert C., Jr., and Cerveny, Randall S.; "Influence of Lunar Phase on Daily Global Temperatures," Science, 267:1481, 1995.
Ref. 2. Gribbin, John; "A Mysterious Monthly Temperature Cycle," New Scientist, p. 18, January 28, 1995.

From Science Frontiers #100, JUL-AUG 1995. 1995-2000 William R. Corliss

Science Frontiers Sourcebook Project Reviewed in:


  • "A sourcebook of unexplained phenomena is therefore a valuable addition to a collection of scientific literature. William R. Corliss has provided this in the past with his source books of scientific anomalies in several subjects, and now he has provided it for astronomy. He has done an excellent job of collecting and editing a large amount of material, taken in part from scientific journals and in part from scientific reporting in the popular or semi-scientific press." -- "The Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies", reviwed by Thomas Gold, Cornell University, in Icarus, vol.41, 1980

  • "An interesting, systematic presentation of unusual weather [..] This book is recommended for a general audience" --"Corliss, William R., Tornados, Dark Days, Anomalous Precipitation, and Related Weather Phenomena, Sourcebook Project, 1983.", revieweed in Choice, September 1983
  • "..the science is necessarily somewhat speculative, but Corliss's symthesis is based on reputable sources." -- "Corliss, William R. (Compiler). Lightning, Auroras, Nocturnal Lights, and Related Luminous Phenomena" reviwed by Joseph M. Moran, Univ. of Wisconsin in Science Books and Films, Sep/Oct 1983

  • "Before opening the book, I set certain standards that a volume which treads into dangerous grounds grounds like this must meet. The author scrupulously met, or even exceeded those standards. Each phenomenon is exhaustively documented, with references to scientific journals [..] and extensive quotations" -- "Book Review: The moon and planets: a catalog of astronomical anomalies", The Sourcebook Project, 1985., Corliss, W. R., Journal of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Vol. 81, no. 1 (1987), p. 24., 02/1987