The Moon that revolves around our planet is a source of awe and inspiration. Humanity has learnt so much about the Moon. Here’s our 10 favourite facts about the Earth’s only permanent natural satellite – it’s pure lunar-cy.
1. There is a “far” side of the moon that we never see from Earth
Our Earth is always spinning on its axis and so does our Moon. In fact, the Moon spins at the same rate as it takes for it to orbit around the Earth, which is 28 days. Due to this, we only ever see the same side of the Moon. The far side that is always facing away is out of sight and can’t be viewed from our perspective. This phenomenon is known as tidal locking and is caused by the force of the Earth’s gravity slowing down the rotation of the Moon and the Moon’s gravity pulling back. Tidal locking, as the name suggests, also influences our ocean tides.
2. A blood moon is actually a total lunar eclipse
A blood moon appears as a full moon with a reddish tinge. This eerie colour has made blood moons the subject of many fables, legends and superstition. The reason for this rouge, however, is purely scientific. A total lunar eclipse is when the Earth moves directly between the Sun and the Moon. The Earth blocks out most of the sunlight that would normally reach the Moon and reflect back to us. The only light that does reach the Moon has been refracted through the Earth’s atmosphere and much like a beautiful sunset has resulted in a red glow. The next blood moon will be on the 31st January 2018!
3. Once in a blue Moon can have two meanings
Talking about colours of the Moon, the most common meaning behind the term “blue moon” is when a second full moon occurs within one calendar month. It is often used to describe something that doesn’t happen to often and it’s true, the next blue moon month will not occur until March 2018. A more literal meaning for when the moon actually appears blue all depends on the Earth’s atmosphere. The Moon can appear blue when there are certain particles in the atmosphere that scatter the light giving the Moon a blue-ish appearance. This can happen after dust storms, volcanic eruptions or even bushfires.
4. There are earthquakes on the Moon… well, moonquakes
When Apollo astronauts walked on the Moon during the 60s and 70s they left behind seismometers to record quake activity. These seismographs sent back data to NASA revealing that there are shallow moonquakes happening quite frequently on the Moon. They occurs approximately 25km below the surface and last much longer than earthquakes. Due to how dry and solid the Moon is, moonquake can measure up to 5.5 on the Richter scale and last for 10 minutes. It’s the same principle as hitting a tuning fork against a hard surface and means that any future Moon-dwellers will need to factor in quake-friendly housing if they want to live permanently on the lunar landscape.
5. Moon Dust is worth millions!
In July, a white bag filled with moon dust and rocks was auctioned off in New York. The bag contained soil collected during the Apollo 11 mission back in 1969 by first man on the moon, Neil Armstrong. An anonymous bidder paid a whopping US$1.8 million for the space artifact. The seller had apparently bought the bag without knowing it’s true worth for $995. A nice profit for a bag of dirt!
Image courtesy of Sotheby’s
Read more: The Strange Story of Neil Armstrong’s Bag
6. New evidence suggest that the Moon could be filled with water
During the Apollo missions of the seventies, astronauts collected volcanic glass beads from the lunar surface. Studies on the beads found trace amounts of water. This finding could be a breakthrough for potential habitation of the Moon. The fact that this evidence came from volcanoes mean that the water could still be present under the surface of the Moon, brought up by the lava of the eruptions. Next time you look up at the Moon, look for the dark spots! They are the lava flows which could be future water source for a lunar colony.
7. Twelve people have walked on the moon
24 astronauts have visited the Moon but only 12 have stepped foot on it’s surface. All 12 have been American men with the first, of course, being Neil Armstrong with his infamous “one small step for man” speech and the second being Buzz Aldrin. In 1972, two NASA astronauts Gene Cernan and Jack Schmitt completed a three day stay including several moonwalks. There has been no other lunar visits since.
8. It’s really hard to moonwalk
Studies have shown that in order to stay upright and walk, humans need about 15% of Earth’s gravity. Any less than this and we can no longer orientate ourselves and will fall over. The Moon just fits into that percentile, with just 17% of the gravitational pull that we are used to here on Earth. In this environment, humans senses have trouble perceiving which way is up so there balance is compromised. It may look like the astronauts are having fun bouncing around on the Moon’s surface, it is actually quite a struggle to stay upright. In footage for the Apollo 17 mission, Jack Schmitt is seen completely stacking it during a moonwalk much to his NASA co-workers amusement. He received the nickname “Twinkletoes” for his performance.
9. The Moon has its own time zone
Known as Lunar Standard Time, this time zone was created using the Moon conditions so that one day it could be used by humans if we were to colonise the Moon. Using any time zone, the Lunar time clock can convert you date and time into the corresponding Moon-time. Try it out here.
10. Heard of a supermoon? Well, there’s a micro-moon too!
There were three supermoon events in 2016. Social media erupted with photos of the event, a huge, extremely bright globe in the sky. Supermoons occur when a full moon coincides with when the Moon is at its closest orbital distance to the Earth. The 3 December 2017 is the next opportunity to experience the next supermoon… but what about a micro-moon? Well, a micro-moon is when a full moon coincides not with the closest point of it’s orbit but it’s farthest, known as the apogee. The moon, as the name suggests, appears smaller and less bright. The next micro full moon will occur on the 28th July 2018.
Feature thumbnail credit: Kennedy Space Centre/NASA