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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.

References

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