Something weird seems to be happening in the heavens. This week marks a coincidence of the full moon and the summer solstice. Some astronomers are calling this combination of maximum moonlight and the Northern Hemisphere's longest day a rare event. If these sorts of events are so rare, why do they happen so often? The fact that astronomers could present either the event or its absence as noteworthy makes some sense in light of what Hand calls "the close-enough effect."... Planetary alignments are always unique, said astronomer Alan MacRobert, an editor at Sky and Telescope. "Whenever there's an alignment of planets you'll read that it has not happened in 20,000 years," he said. Armed with an understanding of statistics, it takes no magic to explain how the universe could produce an octopus named Paul who would correctly predict the outcome of the 2010 World Cup. That such things should be expected to occur might make the magical look more mundane. But it can also make the mundane seem more magical. Faye Flam writes about science, mathematics and medicine. She has been a staff writer for Science magazine and a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer. She is author of "The Score: How the Quest for Sex has Shaped the Modern Man."
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