A full, Harvest Moon week reminds me of my favorite Moon shines… As a kid growing up during the 1960s and the Moon Race with the Soviet Union, I have no memories of not owning a telescope and looking at the Moon. Over the decades, there are some favorite memories about Moon lore and fact, which I share:
The Moon changes by the hour. The shadows along the terminator— the line between day and night—are always an interplay of detail. After an hour, a mountain peak might appear out of the blackness.
I’ve seen dozens of Lunar Eclipses, and as beautiful as they are, what I remember best are the people and places shared with my best friends on Earth—amateur astronomers!
Moon is not a “four letter” word, though serious stargazers complain that the moonlight washes out nebulae, galaxies and other deep sky wonders. But the Moon is the best place to learn how to use a telescope, using a chart to identify features, maybe making sketches or
Moon features are fun to learn and have lots of history from the lunar cartographers who named them. The dark “seas” are named in Latin, i.e. Mare Crisium is the Sea of Crisis; Oceanus Procellarum, the Ocean of Storms; Sinus Iridium, Bay of Rainbows; and Mare Nectaris, the Sea of Nectar (imagine that!) Craters are named after history’s scientists with a few great leaders and politicians (Copernicus, Tycho and Caesar).
Moon is the name of Earth’s moon. Which I find strange. It doesn’t have a proper noun name, like Phobos of Mars, Titan of Saturn and all the moons of Uranus named after Shakespeare characters (like Puck and Miranda).
Most of the time our natural satellite is seen written in a lower-case moon, not the proper pronoun, capital “M” Moon. The Romans called it Luna. To the Greeks it is Selene, and the ancient Egyptians called it Isis.
I’ve had the privilege of twice interviewing the late Apollo 16 moonwalker John Young, a space hero of mine. He told me during a media interview that moon dust smelled like gunpowder and made his skin itchy, like fiberglass. That makes sense as the Moon’s pock-marked surface is the result of millions impacts with cosmic debris, including billions of years of constant bombardment by micrometeorites—space dust. Under a microscope, moon dust is tiny, pointed shards of rock.
I’ve also met several times Apollo 17 moonwalker Harrison “Jack” Schmitt, who was the only geologist to go to the Moon. The first time I met astronaut Schmitt was at a talk at The University of Tennessee, and I was filled with anticipation and intelligent questions. In the men’s room beforehand, Schmitt appeared at the urinal beside me—not the place to strike up a chit-chat about Moon rocks! Believe me, I thoroughly washed my hands for a hand shake out in the hall.
Many scientists in the 17th and 18th Centuries thought it perfectly normal to consider the Moon inhabited by intelligent creatures. One
of the greatest astronomers was Sir William Herschel, discoverer of Uranus in 1781 and cataloger of thousands of telescopic celestial objects. Herschel was convinced that the Moon was inhabited by intelligent beings and said so on the front pages of the London Times. He was frustrated that his telescopes couldn’t find lunar cities.
Hold your hand out at arm’s length toward the Moon and cover it with your pinky finger. That’s one-half a degree of sky. That means 180 Full Moons would span in a line from the east horizon to directly overhead. And then 180 more moons to reach the west horizon. The Moon is 2,120 miles across and an average of 240,000 miles away.
As bright at the Full Moon looks, it is really a poor reflector, sending back only 17 per cent of the sunlight that strikes it. The percentage of reflected light is called “albedo,” and the Moon’s albedo is about the same as a lump of coal. In fact, a well-warn asphalt highway is about the same grey color of the thick, surface moon dust.
There is no dark side of the Moon. There is always half of the Moon illuminated and half in darkness, just like half of the Earth is either in the dark of night or sunshine of the day.
The backside of the Moon is what we don’t see, and it’s completely different. It is covered with thousands of craters with only a couple small, dark “Maria” of ancient lava seas and no mountain ranges. Due to a slight wobble of the Moon called “liberation,” we see some
of the backside on the east and west limbs, accounting for 59 per cent of the lunar surface area.
I “own” a piece of our Moon…at least I paid $20 for a deed from the Lunar Republic Society for Tract 18, Parcel 1386 in the Sea of Vapors! It’s near the nice, 24-mile wide crater Manilius near the center of the Moon. I plan to visit my plot soon. Me? Crazy about the Moon? Sheer lunacy!