If we knew an earthquake was on the way, vulnerable populations could be evacuated and tragedies like the huge death toll in India could be prevented. Scientists have tried to discover a method for predicting earthquakes for years, without success. Now Russian scientists have discovered that earthquakes may be linked to the cycles of the moon, and may be “announced” by increased bursts of neutrons from beneath the earth’s crust.

Nikolaj Volodichev and Mikhail Panasjuk, of the Research Institute of Nuclear Physics in Moscow, noticed that the flow of neutrons from the Earth’s crust increases sharply during the new moon and the full moon, when the earth’s tides are at their strongest.

They measured levels of neutron emission in the Pamir mountains in Tijikistan, an area that has experienced many earthquakes, because the Indian and Eurasian tectonic plates meet in the vicinity. They found that stress from the tidal pull of the moon opened up fissures and cracks in the earth, releasing particles that decay into neutrons.

They then analyzed data of earthquake activity collected over the past 28 years from the “Ring of Fire” in the Pacific, an area of intense earthquake activity. They found that the most severe earthquakes took place around the time of a new moon or full moon.

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