Explorit: Science and romance of the full moon

By From page A10 | February 14, 2014

The full moon anticipated for Friday night coinciding with Valentine’s Day will have those of a romantic bent swooning, but could there be an underlying scientific cause for our association of a full moon with romance?

We know that the moon exerts some influence over the natural world by the way its gravitational pull regulates ocean tides. And people have blamed everything from increases in crime to mental illness to falling in love on the full moon for most of human history. But in the case of romance, scientists’ observations of behavior in the animal kingdom might indicate some influence on humans.

Scientists have long observed that for one week each year right after a full moon, the corals of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef all spawn simultaneously in a magnificently orchestrated event. Mile after mile of corals releases tiny pinkish sperm bundles and whiter eggs into the water like snow falling in reverse.

But how could such primitive animals who don’t even have brains or eyes manage to coordinate with each other to pull off such a perfectly synchronized event? The answer lies in a light-sensing gene called a cryptochrome. Cryptochromes occur not just in corals, but in a variety of animals, including fish, insects and even humans.

Cryptochromes allow corals to detect the blue light of the full moon and seem to serve as triggers for the mass spawning event. These genes are believed to be an evolutionary forerunner to eyes. In addition to sensing light and pigment, they help animals regulate biological cycles and, in a way, track the passage of time.

We humans still have cryptochromes although probably not for their light-sensing properties. It’s likely that our cryptochromes are connected to our biological clocks and help regulate our circadian rhythms. But if the corals’ cryptochromes help them sense and respond to the light of a full moon, perhaps ours do as well.

So this Valentine’s Day take a moment to observe and appreciate the full moon. From regulating ocean tides to scheduling spawning corals, its power is undeniable.


Explorit’s coming events:

* Explorit’s “Beautiful World: Science and Art” exhibition is open to the public from 1 to 5 p.m. every Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday, and every Friday from 3 to 6 p.m. Admission is $5 per person; Explorit members, teachers and children 2 and under are free.

* Calling all Girl Scouts! The Home Scientist Brownie Badge Day at Explorit is on Sunday, March 2, from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Registration is open online at www.explorit.org.csp/brownie and will close on Feb. 28.

* After-school Science Adventures for students in kindergarten through sixth grade begin Wednesday afternoons at Explorit in March. Call Explorit at 530-756-0191 for more information or to register.

* Birthdays are back at Explorit! Call Explorit at 530-756-0191 for more information or to book your party.

* Summer Science Camp is coming! Registration opens Monday, March 17. Camp titles, a full schedule and all the details are coming soon to www.explorit.org.

* NanoDays are coming to Explorit for spring break, March 24-28. Save the dates!

— Explorit Science Center is at 3141 Fifth St. For more information, call 530-756-0191, visit www.explorit.org, or “like” Explorit on Facebook at www.facebook.com/explorit.fb.

Lisa Justice

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