The word ‘lunatic’, with its roots in the Latin luna, for moon, used to describe people who seemed to become temporarily insane as the moon went through its different phases. Now largely used by world leaders to insult one another, its definition has become much broader, but on occasions like Wednesday, when the much-anticipated Super Blue Blood Moon reared its head in the early morning, the term’s spooky mythology seems as relevant as ever. The effect is especially pronounced in hospitals.

“We pride ourselves on being scientific people,” said Dr. Patricia Valcke, a palliative care physician at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, in an interview with Inverse, “But the more celestial events that line up, the weirder things get.”

Wednesday’s Super Blue Blood Moon, described as an “astronomical trifecta,” was a full moon that wasn’t only huge and terrifyingly red but also a lunar eclipse and the second full moon of January.

Things are strange enough during full moons, says Valcke, noting that “people hold on for a long time then half the unit passes in one night.” But events like a Super Blue Blood Moon are even eerier. “Blue moon, blood moon, eclipse — it just spells trouble,” she says, noting that nursing homes “go wonky” and elderly patients start having “odd” behaviors for “no particular reason.”

Anecdotal evidence suggests hospitals get busier during lunar events, but the scientific literature shows no link.

Article continues below

Nancy Brisebois, a self-described “fossil” of a nurse who works with Valcke, tells Inverse that in her 40-plus years of experience, she and her peers have learned to “get their runners on” during a full moon because everyone knows it’ll be a busy night. “We try not to be on call on a full moon,” she says. “Something weird always seems to happen.”

Anecdotes like these are simply that — anecdotes — but it’s impossible to deny the sheer number of healthcare professionals that have stories to share. One study investigating the link, published in Advances in Mind-Body Medicine in 2017, cites a figure saying 81 percent of mental health workers report anecdotal evidence of a link between human illness and full moons. Naturally, these stories, told and retold in ICUs and emergency rooms in hospitals across the continent, have led many researchers to try to get to the bottom of it. The results of these investigations consistently turn up null, however, making it all the more maddening that everyone seems to see a correlation.

In early January, for example, physicians from Wayne State University School of Medicine published an article in Critical Care Medicine entitled “Do moon phases or proximity influence the incidence of delirium and agitation in ICU patients?” Explaining what led to the study, Aeman Hana, a co-author and medical student, tells Inverse that “the claim is not widespread but it is common and mentioned by some of the healthcare workers.”

Like many related studies in the literature, the paper starts out with a description of the phenomenon that’s puzzled humans for centuries: “The potential influence of lunar phases, most notably full moons (FM), on a wide range of human physiology, especially of a psychological nature, has been the subject of much debate.” In this particular study, the researchers searched for correlations between the behavior of 5,795 patients and phases of the moon over two years in one hospital. As with the Advances in Mind-Body Medicine paper, which used similar methods to assess 1,857 patients, the study didn’t turn out any links.

Despite the anecdotes, the evidence that the moon has any sort of effect on human behavior is, as a 2016 Frontiers in Pediatrics article put it, “weak.” That study, which looked at 33,710 sleep cycle recordings from kids from 12 different countries to see whether the moon had any effect on sleep duration — concluded that sleep duration is 1 percent shorter during a full moon compared to a new moon, but even the authors questioned whether the findings were clinically meaningful.

It may be that physicians and nurses, for all the careful objectivity inherent in their work, are as susceptible to confirmation bias as the rest of us. Or perhaps there really is a link between human physiology and the moon that still eludes us. Whatever the case, during lunar events, healthcare professionals can’t help thinking that they probably should have just taken some time off.

“We knew, ‘There’s this monstrosity on January 31’, and no one wants to be on call,” said Brisebois. “The full moon causes things we can’t explain.”

On Monday, scientists revealed the first images of a human inside the world’s newest total body scanner, called EXPLORER. The name is fitting because this scanner really leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination, tracking the way drugs and disease progress through every nook and cranny in the body.

Designed by biomedical engineering professor Simon Cherry, Ph.D., and biophysicist Ramsey Badawi, Ph.D. at University of California, Davis, this scanner produces images that look like a hybrid between a PET scan (which is often used to find tumors) and an X-ray, all in ghostly black and white. But what’s interesting about EXPLORER, which will be officially unveiled at the Radiological Society of North America meeting on November 24th, isn’t that it produces detailed images of tissues or bones. Cherry tells Inverse that it can also create 3D movies showing where certain drugs may end up in the body.

Climate change often conjures up images of heat, drought, and hurricanes. But according to the latest US National Climate Assessment, released on Nov. 23, 2018, winters have warmed three times faster than summers in the Northeast in recent years. These changes are also producing significant effects.

Historically, over 50 percent of the northern hemisphere has had snow cover in winter. Now warmer temperatures are reducing the depth and duration of winter snow cover. Many people assume that winter is a dormant time for organisms in cold climates, but decades of research now show that winter climate conditions — particularly snowpack — are important regulators of the health of forest ecosystems and organisms that live in them.

These days, it’s generally frowned upon when humans try to have sex with members of other species. That was not the case for our ancestors. This year, researchers showed that ancient humans hooked up with individuals of other Homo species — and that doesn’t just mean Neanderthals.

By now, it’s no secret that early Homo sapiens hooked up with Neanderthals, also known as Homo neanderthalensis. Some modern humans carry the consequences of those ancient trysts in their DNA. Genes linked to depression risk and cigarette addiction, for example, have been traced back to Neanderthal genes.

After a 41-year journey, NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft is officially the second human-made object to leave our solar system. Researchers announced on Monday that on November 5, Voyager 2 broke through the heliosphere, the bubble of ionized particles that envelops the solar system. This spectacular outcome, the Voyager project scientists revealed at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union, was never guaranteed when the craft launched in 1977.