8 Cool Moon Facts

2Share

I am certain that I am not the only Earthling who is in love with the moon, but it was my grandmother who called it "Todd's Moon" after one of the first words I ever spoke was, simply, "moon." Ever since those early days, I have spent a lot of time looking at the moon, thinking about the moon, reading about the moon, and photographing the moon.

To learn about the moon in the olden days, a lunar enthusiast would have to go to their local library or hope their parents had sprung for the latest collection of World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica to crack open books on Earth's only natural satellite. Today, we have the Internet and can tap directly into the resources of the people who keep 842 pounds of moon rocks and dust in their offices—NASA—as well as the knowledge of other space agencies and academics who have studied the moon an exponentially longer time than I have.

Photographs © Todd Vorenkamp

#NerdAlert
#NerdAlert

So, because you are reading this article on a device that can take you to a treasure trove of lunar facts and figures, and even place you virtually on the surface of the moon, here is a short take on my favorite moon things.

The Dark Side Sees Light

Sorry, Pink Floyd, the "Dark Side of the Moon," is only dark sometimes—just like on Earth. The moon rotates about its axis, so the sun shines over both "sides" of the moon. Its rotational period is locked into its orbital period around the Earth, so we only get to see one "side" of the moon from Earth. But, had the Apollo astronauts stayed on the surface of the moon longer, they would have experienced nightfall (and lost communication with Earth).

A Half Is Not a Half

I just mentioned that the moon's rotation is locked into its orbit of Earth so that we only see one "side" of the moon, but we do get to see more than 50% of the moon's surface—more than 59%, to be more exact. This is because the moon's orbit around earth is elliptical, and that results in fluctuations in the relative speed of the moon as it moves between perigee and apogee. A libration (an apparent oscillation) happens and we get to see parts of the "dark side" of the moon.

Tides

As a sailor, I am constantly aware of the gravitational pull of the moon on the waters of the Earth. Gravity is known as a "weak force" in the world of physics, but the pull of the moon's attraction is enough to make the oceans of the Earth bulge outward toward space and, when combined with a storm or the right winds, flood coastal roads or wreak havoc ashore if timed poorly with a hurricane or typhoon. As damaging as a storm and spring tide can be, it is this variable pull on the waters of the Earth—a virtual heart driving the planet's circulatory system—that help sustain life as we know it.

The Moon is Leaving Us

I already mentioned that the moon's orbit is elliptical, so as it travels around the Earth it gets closer and then farther away. But, did you notice that it is farther away today than it was a year ago? The moon is moving away from us at the blistering rate of about 1.5 inches every year. I am not going to provide specifics, but the moon is well over 5 feet farther from me than it was the day I was born. That is kind of a bummer, but, honestly, it is probably better than the alternative of the moon on a slow-motion collision course with Earth.

The End of Solar Eclipses

Total solar eclipses are a phenomenon that magically happens because of the relative size difference between Earth and the moon, as well as the distances between the planet and its satellite. Because the moon is leaving us, eventually there will be no more total solar eclipses. The numbers vary, but the average consensus is that in about 600,000,000 years, humans will not enjoy total solar eclipses, so you'd better start planning to see them while they are here!

The Half-Moon Misnomer

There are specific names for the phases of the moon, and those names do not include the title of "Half Moon." When you look skyward and see one half of the moon's surface, the proper name for that phase is "First Quarter" or "Last Quarter." Remember, you are seeing one half of one half of the moon's surface and one half of a half is a quarter. In reality, one half of the moon is always illuminated.

The Name

Europa, Titan, Callisto, Io, Enceladus, etc. The moons orbiting the other planets in our solar system get cool names. Why is ours just called "the moon?" The word doesn't even get capitalized in most style guides. [In Latin, the moon is called, "Luna."] Where is the respect? Why doesn't the moon get a name commensurate with its awesomeness? The answer is quite simple: Until 1610, when Galileo Galilei first saw the moons of Jupiter with his telescope, we small-minded Earthlings thought that our moon was the only moon in the entire universe, so it was just the Latin equivalent of "the moon."

"Fake" Moon Landings

Before the Internet was mainstream, in 1999, approximately 6% of Americans believed that the Apollo moon landings were fake—a manufactured achievement filmed on a Hollywood sound stage to make the USSR believe the US had won the space race—according to a Gallup poll. The conspiracy theorists’ ideas can be debunked with something called "science," but some more recent opinion polls, possibly fueled by the Internet giving equally large megaphones to all web-connected town criers, show that the percentage is now as high as 20% in America and even higher overseas. This aligns closely with percentages of Americans who believe the Earth is flat and that the solar system is not heliocentric. Regardless, it's a fun fact to consider when you are among the public.

What are your favorite moon facts, figures, or myths? Share them in the discussion section below!

2 Comments

Cool fact: When Todd Voorenkamp was a younger man he was a pilot and, therefore, was paid to fly toward (not to) the moon. Grandma was proud!

Correction: Naval Aviator. :)

A combination Army Pilot/Naval Aviator might be forgiven.

Thanks for stopping by, Steve!

Close

Close

Close