“Hey diddle diddle
the cat and the fiddle,
the cow jumped over the Moon.
The little dog laughed
to see such a sport
and the dish ran away with the spoon.”
Author unknown, first printed 1785
The Moon makes its monthly waltz through our night sky, and though it may be cold outside for most of us, you will catch yourself taking a glance at the pretty crescent that waxes to First Quarter and then to Full Moon on Feb. Tuesday Feb. 19.
Though really not big in the sky—you can cover it with a thumb at arm’s length—the Moon is enormous in the mind of man.
And at no time was there more attention given to the silvery orb in the sky than 50 years ago, when the hype was beginning to build for the long-anticipated Apollo 11 landing on July 20, 1969.
Baby Boomers who were caught up in the 1960s Moon Race of America vs the Soviet Union have a hard time believing that it would be at least 50 years before man returned to the lunar surface?
NASA and Russia and Europe talk about going to the Moon and then Mars, but China has a roving robot active on the Moon right now, and they may have secret plans to send people there in this decade.
Meanwhile, you can’t escape the influence of our Moon—even without looking up! All the vampire television and movies. And how about dozens of songs written about our Moon.
What would Pink Floyd be without the album Dark Side of the Moon? Or Creedence Clearwater Revival without a Bad Moon Rising? Van Morrison’s song Moon Dance and Neil Young’s album Harvest Moon made them superstars.
Inspired by the six Apollo moon landings from 1969-1972, The Police were Walking on the Moon; the Grateful Dead sang about a Picasso Moon… “boiling ball, shining bright, I see the magic, I see the light.” Jerry Garcia loved to sing that he was Standing on the Moon. Maybe he was! The quirky Man on the Moon by R.E.M. is another toe tapper to the light of la Luna.
The Moon is called many names by the hundreds of civilizations that have roamed the Earth. Lunar deities include Selene, Phoebe, Artemis, Luna, Nana, Thoth, Diana…and dozens of others in Asian and African dialects.
And of course, there are hundreds of myths and legends surrounding the Moon. Werewolves and vampires are always associated with the Moon, and we have the Full Moon as a central character in hundreds of works in literature.
Don’t forget the lunacy factor of la Luna. Though crime and crazy human acts are thought to rise during the Full Moon, the statistics just don’t support that notion. It makes more sense that nefarious acts would be planned during the dark phases of the Moon, not when alleys, backyards and parking lots are illuminated by moonlight.
Ask someone who lives near the ocean about the twice-daily effect of the Moon on the tides, or a biologist about the lunar cycle of many life forms. These are factual, scientifically documented facts that are influenced by the pulling gravity of the Moon.
Science and the Moon didn’t meet each other until 400 years ago when Galileo turned his crude telescope to the Moon in his backyard in Pisa, Italy in the November 1609.
Galileo discovered that the Moon had mountains, was scarred with holes (craters), and appeared to have smooth, dark seas (solid lava). Suddenly, the Moon became a world of its own. And that revelation by Galileo threatened the foundation of centuries of teachings by the Catholic Church.
The 17th Century discoveries of Galileo shook up the accepted thinking when the Italian scientist proved that the Sun was blemished with spots, that the planet Jupiter had four moons circling it and the Moon was a foreign world.
Galileo’s ultimate blasphemy was to support the theory of Copernicus that the Earth orbited the Sun. For debunking 1,000 years of an Earth-centered Universe, Galileo spend the last 17 years of his life under house arrest.
In the 21st Century, a child’s toy telescope can be more powerful than Galileo’s crude instrument. Those department store telescopes that Santa Claus dropped off are good for moongazing. So is a spotting ‘scope for hunting or bird watching.
Binoculars are also great for looking at the Moon, and they can be held steady against a fence post or with a tripod adapter. Their low power gives a sharp, clear image that allows you to pinpoint the patterns of mountains and craters against the dark, ancient seas of solidified lava.
Dig out that telescope from under the bed or in the closet—or maybe it’s a spider playground in the garage! Use the highest number eyepiece (like 32 mm) for low power (80x-100x), train the telescope on the Moon and be amazed. You are looking at the Moon 10-times better than Galileo ever saw it, and with a map you can become familiar with the lunar landscape in an intimate way.
Four hundred years ago, man’s eyes were opened by the discoveries of Galileo, who wondered what made up the Moon. Just five decades ago, mankind found out for sure, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin held Moon rocks in their own hands.
Take some time to look up at the Moon, whether with your naked eyes, binoculars or a telescope. Feel the moonlight on your face and hold the thoughts of those Moon age daydreams.