By Kate Samuelson
September 13, 2016

Large earthquakes are more likely to occur when there is a full or new moon because of the gravitational pull on tides, a new study suggests.

Researchers led by Satoshi Ide, Suguru Yabe and Yoshiyuki Tanaka, all from the University of Tokyo, found that tides—which arise from the gravitational interaction between the Earth and the Moon—can cause changes that may trigger earthquakes.

Particularly large earthquakes, including the 2004 Magnitude 9.1–9.3 Indian Ocean earthquake, the Magnitude 8.8 Maule earthquake which hit Chile in 2010 and the 2011 Magnitude 9.0 Tohoku-Oki earthquake in Japan, tend to occur near to a time of seizable tidal stress, which is often triggered by full or new moons.

When there is maximum tidal stress, the “probability of a tiny rock failure expanding to a gigantic rupture increases,” the study states.

There was no clear correlation found between tidal stress and small earthquakes.

Write to Kate Samuelson at kate.samuelson@time.com.

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