Sunday, September 14, 2014

The story of the Moon Extinguishers

Quirky Belgium

The Travelled Monkey - Supermoon
The perigee moon, or "supermoon," can seem as much as 12 percent bigger and 30 percent brighter than the average full moon.  Photo by John Weaver

Did the Man In The Moon seem like he was a little bit closer this week?

If so, that’s because this week’s full moon was the last of three “supermoons” to light up this summer’s sky. 

What’s a supermoon? The technical name is “perigee moon,” and it refers to the point in the moon’s orbit when it’s closest to the earth. This full moon can seem as much as 12% bigger and 30% brighter than the average full moon. This week’s full moon didn’t seem much bigger when I looked at it, but I did think it was brighter than usual. 

Which reminded me about the special relationship the city of Mechelen has with the moon. It's so special that, for more than 300 years, the people of Mechelen have been referred to as “Maneblussers,” or Moon Extinguishers. 

The story goes that, one night in 1687, a local man stumbled out of the pub and, thinking that the tower of the cathedral was on fire, sounded the alarm. The townsfolk woke up and looked out of their windows only to draw the same conclusion. People rushed to the cathedral with their buckets of water and began to form a chain up the steps of the tall tower, ready to douse the flames. But right before they reached the top, they realized that the “fire” they saw was actually the moon shining through cathedral’s windows, and the “smoke” was the effect of low hanging clouds backlit by the moon.

Moral of the story: don’t blame the beer, blame the supermoon!


Analogy of the week

Scott Tibbitts, a chemical engineer in the United States, has invented a technology that allows cars to disable a driver's phone so that they can't text or call while driving. Given that in 2012, for which the most recent figures are available, an estimated 1.2 million car accidents were attributed to people talking or dialing cellphones and an estimated 280,000 for texting in the US, out of a total of 5.6 million crashes, this technology would seem like an easy sell.

But Mr. Tibbitts has cited the lack of consumer demand as a big challenge. “This is a behavior problem,” he said. “It’s like trying to make condoms cool.”

Here’s a link to the full story.

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