The harvest moon is almost upon us—specifically, September 19. It’s the full moon closest to the autumnal equinox, and it has deep significance in our cultural histories. Namely, it enabled our ancestral farmers to toil longer in the fields. (Today, electricity enables us to toil longer in the office—thanks, Tom Edison.)
One enduring belief is that the harvest moon is bigger and brighter than any other full moon. That myth is probably the result of the well-known illusion in which the moon looks bigger on the horizon than it does overhead.
Back when I was taking psych 101, my professor explained that the moon illusion was simply a function of having reference objects on the horizon. But then I saw this TED-Ed video by Andrew Vanden Heuvel. It turns out that the explanation from my college days really isn’t sufficient to explain the illusion. In fact, scientists really aren’t sure, and there is much debate. Check it out and see what you think.
The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR(S)
Philip Yam is the managing editor of ScientificAmerican.com, responsible for the overall news content online. He began working at the magazine in 1989, first as a copyeditor and then as a features editor specializing in physics. He is the author of The Pathological Protein: Mad Cow, Chronic Wasting and Other Prion Diseases. Follow Philip Yam on Twitter