POSTSCRIPT / December 23, 1999 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Brightest full moon, killer quake this week? Not true!

WE’VE been swamped by queries about the phenomenon of an extremely bright full moon last night and tonight and the possibility of tidal waves and even a killer quake hitting these parts during the holidays.

The reason behind this sudden interest in the full moon and such physical calamities is that the moon will be unusually close to the earth and the earth in turn is reportedly closer to the sun this week.

The two factors are supposed to result in more sunlight hitting the moon and the moon looking brighter and bigger to us on earth. This is supposed to be a one of its kind full moon in 133 years.

Fueling further the excitement is an article from the Old Farmer’s Almanac that is being widely circulated by email. We’ve also heard it being read on radio.

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IS it true that last night’s full moon was the brightest in 133 years? Via the Internet, we turned to Roger W. Sinnott, associate editor of Sky & Telescope, an authoritative publication on such celestial phenomena. His answer is an unequivocal No!

His phone number, in case you want to check with him, is 617-864-7360, ext. 146. Email address: Sinnot writes:

“It is true that there is a most unusual coincidence of events this year. As S&T contributing editor Fred Schaaf points out in the December 1999 issue of Sky & Telescope, ‘The moon reaches its very closest point all year on the morning of Dec. 22. That’s only a few hours after the December solstice and a few hours before full moon. Ocean tides will be exceptionally high and low that day.’

“But to have these three events—lunar perigee (the moon’s closest approach to earth during its monthly orbit), solstice, and full moon— occur on nearly the same day is not especially rare. The situation was rather similar in December 1991 and December 1980.

“What is really rare is that in 1999 the three events take place in such quick succession. On only two other occasions in modern history have the full moon, lunar perigee, and December solstice coincided within a 24-hour interval, coming just 23 hours apart in 1991 and 20 hours apart back in 1866.

“The 10-hour spread on Dec. 22, 1999, is unmatched at any time in the last century and a half.

“So is it really true that the moon was brighter on Dec. 22, 1999, than at any time in the last 133 years? We have researched the actual perigee distances of the moon throughout the years 1800-2100, and it turns out that the moon comes closer to earth in the years 1893, 1912, 1930, and 2052 than it does in either 1866 or 1999.

“The difference in brightness will be exceedingly slight. But if you want to get technical about it, the full moon must have been a little brighter in 1893, 1912, and 1930 than in either 1866 or 1999 (based on the calculated distances).

“The 1912 event is undoubtedly the real winner, because it happened on the very day the earth was closest to the sun that year. However, according to a calculation by Belgian astronomer Jean Meeus, the full moon on Jan. 4, 1912, was only 0.24 magnitude (about 25 percent) brighter than an ‘average’ full moon.

“In any case, these are issues only for the astronomical record books. This month’s full moon should not look dramatically brighter than normal. Most people would not notice a thing, despite the email chain letter that implies we’ll see something amazing.

“Our data are from the US Naval Observatory’s ICE computer program, Jean Meeus’s Astronomical Algorithms, page 332, and the August 1981 issue of Sky & Telescope, page 110.”

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IF we may add our bit of observation, whatever extra brightness the full moon had last night was diminished by the thick pollution blanketing Metro Manila.

People who have been going to the provinces may have noticed that while few constellations are visible in Metro Manila, even the smaller stars could be clearly seen in the night sky when viewed from some vantage in the provinces.

On the matter of a killer quake supposedly triggered by the unusual relative positions of the sun, earth and the moon, while heightened gravitational pull can reach a certain level where it can affect physical objects on earth (like the tides), our seismologists are not ready to say that this will cause a big quake.

Despite advances in science, predicting the place and time that an earthquake would hit has been generally a chancy game. The prediction of a big one hitting us the next few days belongs, we dare say, to the realm of fortune-telling.

* * *

WE’LL see you Sunday, day after Christmas. So, before the rushing holidays sweep us aside, let me wish you a true Maligayang Pasko and a more fulfilling new millennium.

Meantime, slow down. Resist being carried away if you find the current too fast.

If you haven’t bought yet some of the gifts you have in mind, ask yourself if they are really that crucial to your well-being or to your intended recipients. If they are not, don’t bother battling traffic and wading into the mob of last-minute shoppers.

Your mental health is more important than all the material gifts in the world.

One nice thing about our Christmas celebration is that it extends all the way to the Feast of the Three Kings in early January. You still have time after Dec. 25 to get that special thing for your special someone.

* * *

MEANTIME, don’t worry. Don’t let the shopping pressure sap away your spirit.

Christmas was never meant to make your short life on earth miserable. On the contrary, it is supposed to free you from earthly cares.

Days or weeks from now, you’ll discover that you had been unnecessarily worrying about materials things during these harried few days before Dec. 25.

After the trash of the partying is swept away and the din of the celebration dies down, the realization will dawn on you that you have just survived another Christmas – and that many of your worries over material expectations were without basis.

* * *

FOR President Estrada, our wish is that his many cronies and relatives allow him a measure of peace and quiet. The man needs time and space to gather his thoughts, recharge, get back his bearings and face the new millennium with a new resolve.

We would like to believe that Erap Estrada wants to make good as president within his human limitations. He can’t do it alone. But neither can he do it with opportunists and relatives hanging on to him.

There should be some way of leading our President away from people who have been using him, misleading him, distorting his sense of right and wrong to advance their selfish agenda.

This, then, is our Christmas wish for President Estrada: That he be able to shake himself free from those using him.

* * *

WE’RE used to witnessing games of power politics. But still we were kind of shocked over a recent letter of Marcus Rodlauer, the local mission chief of the International Monetary Fund to Rep. Arnulfo Fuentebella, who has been shepherding the Electricity Reform Bill in the House of Representatives.

Among other things, the bill lays the groundwork for the privatization of the National Power Corp. There have been reports that the IMF is pressuring the Estrada administration into rushing the approval of the bill.

The Rodlauer letter appears to confirm this. In part, the IMF man in Manila tells Fuentebella:

* * *

“WE are disappointed to learn that the Electricity Reform Bill which you have sponsored appears to have run into some further delays in passing through the House of Congress (sic). As you are aware, the program supported by the IMF expected passage of this bill before the end of the year (which already represented a significant delay from earlier schedules).

“Given the central importance of the power sector to the Philippine economy, as well as the progressive deterioration of the NPC’s finances, passage of reform legislation is more urgent than ever. Therefore, the IMF-supported program, as well as financial markets and investor confidence more generally, set great store in the early passage of the bill.

“While we are aware that final passage of the bill and signature by the President will likely come only next year after the Senate completes its work, we consider it very important that the House now passes the bill without further delay (before the end of the year). This, we believe, would be a highly desirable first step towards final passage of the bill, demonstrating to investors and financial markets that progress is indeed being made.”

What can we say about this, except to ask why we are allowing this kind of pressure tactics. And how come this IMF enforcer presumes to scold Fuentebella. What have they got on him?

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 23, 1999)

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