Mind Bomb 11: 5 lunar facts that will leave you in awe
Mind Bombs are reserved for the strangest, weirdest, OMG facts of our universe. And from my experience, things that we are already familiar with can still be in this category. While the subject of Mind Bomb #011 is the Moon, something that is undoubtedly of common knowledge to us, you can be sure that the facts stated below will still blow your minds wide open.
Fact 1 - Only 12 People Had Walked on the Moon
Let's get started with honouring these people who had walked onto the moon. All of whom were a part of the series of Apollo missions.
In chronological order (starting from the first):Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke (youngest at 37 years old), Eugene Cernan, and Harrison Schimitt.
Apart of it being awesome, these 12 people are also the only ones who had physically looked back at Earth, and could have used their thumb to block it from their view, which gives all of them an incredible perspective on life.
Fact 2 - The Moon is Made of the Earth
Technically, those astronauts were just walking on the furthest continent of Earth. Many have questioned how the moon came to be, and this question was answered when moon rocks (or lunar rocks) collected during the Apollo missions were tested.
Scientists found out that the materials that make up the moon is much like the Earth core. This evidence gave the Giant Impact Hypothesis a major push, which till this day is still one of the most solid hypothesis regarding the origin of the Moon.
The Giant Impact Hypothesis is a very Hollywood Sci-Fi way of the birth of the Moon, and it goes something like this. 4.52 billion years (or 4.52 Gya) ago, Earth (still young and largely molten) collided with Theia, another heavenly body about the half size of Mars. Then BOOM, the Moon was formed out of the debris of the collision, which scientists has estimated that the formation only took about a week!
Take a look at the video below that puts the viewer in a first person perspective of the event!
What's more, if this collision was true, scientist say that such an impact will also be the reason as to why the Earth's axis is tilted at 23.5 degrees, which is why we have the 4 seasons (unless you are in Singapore, in which case is just summer all the time).
Fact 3 - The Moon is the Ultimate Magician!
So the process which gave birth to the Moon may have been responsible for the 4 seasons, but that is still and may always be a MAY. But what is FACT are the effects the Moon has on Earth.
Dramatic Tidal Changes
First and foremost, the tides. We all know that the Moon causes the tides to rise and fall, but if you go to your local beach, you will notice it, but its unimpressive, not unless you live in Britian.
In Michael Marten's book "Sea Change", you will find amazing pictures showcasing the difference between high and low tide at various British coastlines. Just take a look and be in awe.
So this is one magic trick that we can see frequently, but one less frequent, is the famous Solar Eclipses.
This phenomenon occurs when the Moon passes between the Sun and the Earth. However because of the variations in journeys of these heavenly bodies, there are different types of Solar Eclipses, namely Annular, Partial, Total, and Hybrid Eclipses.
We may not be that amazed by Solar Eclipses if it was not for imperfection. If the Moon were in a perfectly circular orbit, a little closer to the Earth, and in the same orbital plane, there would be a total Solar Eclipse every month.
But because the Moon's orbit is tilted at more than 5 degrees to Earth's Orbit around the Sun, a Total Eclipse is rare, though ultimately, adds to the experiential value of seeing it first-hand. Check this advanced guide of how you can master the art of Solar Eclipse Photography. Which you can then practice on the next Total Solar Eclipse is on November 3, 2013!
As for those in Singapore, we usually miss out on the fun, the next Total Solar Eclipse visible in Singapore is on March 9, 2016. But fear not, because there is another phenomenon that is the opposite of this, but equally as spectacular!
Lunar Eclipses basically has the moon and the earth swap places, with the Earth in the middle of the 3 heavenly bodies, blocking light from the Sun. A Lunar Eclipse can only occur when on the night of a full moon and when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are aligned exactly or very closely.
A Lunar Eclipse, while less popular in mainstream culture, does hold a high possibility of us observing it. For one, anyone on the night side of the Earth can view a Lunar Eclipse. It will also last for a few hours, as compared to a solar eclipse which only last for a few minutes due to the small size of the Moon. And as icing on the cake, Lunar Eclipses are safe to view without any eye protection or special precautions.
But why does the moon turn red during a Total Lunar Eclipse? Well the science behind the Lunar Eclipse phenomenon is wonderful, but in a nutshell, it is due to the Earth's atmosphere scatters away much of the blue and green light in the spectrum of colour, letting only the red to go straight through. During a Total Lunar Eclipse, the Moon is fully under the shadow of the Earth and is no longer illuminated by the Sun. Much like during a total Solar Eclipse, some light still passes through the obstruction. However, in the case of a Total Lunar Eclipse, only red light will make it to the moon, and hence this eerie but spectacular view.
In case you are wondering, there are Partial Lunar Eclipse and Penumbral Lunar Eclipses as well.
To catch the next Total Lunar Eclipse, we will have to wait for October 8, 2014, so enjoy the Total Solar Eclipse first and pray for clear skies.
For those of us in Singapore, good news, as the Total Lunar Eclipse will also be viewable in Singapore on that date. And you better not miss it, as the next Total Lunar Eclipse will only be available in Singapore 8 years later, on November 8, 2022. (I'll be 29 by then!)
Click to check out a 10 year calendar on Solar and Lunar Eclipses.
And the last trick up our amazing moon's sleeves, its ability to turn massive. This occurs due to the coincidence of a full/new moon while it is at its closest to the Earth.
The closest encounter occurred recently back on June 23, 2013, which also happens to be the closest the Moon will ever get to the Earth for 2013. On 2014, the Moon will be at its closest to the Earth on August 10.
As seen on astropro, the next Supermoon will occur during a very special day, January 1, 2014. (Its a New Year so better make a wish!)
Fact 4 - Our Moon is Quite Amazing, But One of the Most Boring
So our Moon is quite amazing. Its obviously true given what you just read to get to this fact, but it is only one in a crowd - which is a total of 166 moons. Mercury and Venus has none. Mars has 2, Jupiter has the most with 63, Saturn has 60, Uranus has 27, and Neptune has 13.
Earth is special as it is the only planet in the Solar System with only 1 Moon.
With such company, one will find some bizarre lunar characteristics, and with our Moon having no atmosphere, hardly any activity in its core, it is really not an attention-worthy once we see the greater Solar System. Here are some of the most remarkable Moons:
- One of Jupiter's 4 main Moons, Io, features over 400 active volcanoes!
- Another of Jupiter's 4 main Moons, Europa, is believed by some scientists, to have water under its surface!
- Yet another of Jupiter's 4 main Moons, Ganymede, is the largest Moon in the Solar System! (Its larger than Mercury!)
- Saturn's largest Moon, Titan, is the only Moon known to have a dense atmosphere, and scientists are keen on exploring as it has the one of the highest probability of sustain life apart from Earth!
Fact 5 - But Appreciate Our Moon, Because it is Getting Further Away From Us by the Day
By using the 61cm (2-foot) wide panel studded with 100 mirrors placed there by Neil Armstrong, scientists can accurately measure the distance between the Earth and the Moon using a laser. Through periodical tracking, we realised that the Moon is slowly spiraling outwards and away from the grasps of Earth Gravity at a rate of 3.8cm (1.5inches) per year. Interestingly, this is also the average rate in which our fingernails grow.
This is due to the tidal bulges caused by this symbiotic relationship. As Earth's rotation is slightly faster than that of the Moon's, the tidal bulges actually sit slightly ahead of the moon as the energy of the spinning Earth is transferred to the tidal bulges.
This drives them forward, keeping them ahead of the moon. This feeds a small amount of energy into the Moon, thus pushing it outwards, much like a child trying to hold on to a roundabout as it gets faster and faster. Soon, the child will lose its grip.
However, as science is always humorous, the energy gained as the Moon is pushed higher is balanced by a reduction in the energy of its motion, thus ultimately, the Moon is slowing down while being accelerated by the Earth.
However, the Moon will not leave Earth's orbit, as it will reach orbital resonance once it reaches far enough to negate the force that is pushing it out. And so the relationship between the Earth and Moon will not end, but it will be a more of a long-term relationship, which will have adverse consequences due to the decreased gravitational presence of our Moon, it is indeed something to think about, with all the effects on our ocean's currents, weather, nightlife, etc, changing dramatically. However we will most likely not be there to experience it. At its crawling rate, the Moon will reach orbital resonance approximately 50 billion years.
Therefore, unless the rate in which Moon leaves Earth's orbit accelerates dramatically, Earth will still perish in approximately 5 billion years, when our Sun reaches it's end in life and becomes a Red Giant, thus increasing in size and frying all existence on Earth or even engulfing it!
So there are 5 facts that you have read, and I hope you found the Moon to be as amazing as I do. And when you look up at the Moon, tell yourself its a good night, because you got one heck of a companion!