Lunar Facts: The Moon Is an Odd and Fascinating Place
Since the dawn of history, humans have been fascinated by the moon. And this fascination has not dimmed over time. A moon is an object that orbits a planet or another object that is not a star, although there are some exceptions - exoplanets are considered to be essentially wandering moons. These naturally occurring satellites are all over our solar system. In fact, it is estimated that there are around 200 moons just in our solar system alone. However, this does not make Earth's moon any less unique.
Humanity's historic first steps on the moon occurred a little over 50 years ago. Yet, with all of the effort we have put into traveling to the moon, we still do not know that much about the lunar surface. In fact, that big grey ball you see in the sky 239,000 miles from Earth is still a bit of a mystery. Today, we will explore some odd and perhaps unsettling facts that you should know about the moon.
Full moons could be keeping you up at night
This seems like something you might hear about as a myth. This can't be true, right? If you go back through history or spend some time watching werewolf movies, you will quickly learn that the moon has been used to explain a range of supernatural phenomena and odd behavior. A full moon might not cause you to turn into a werewolf, but it may prevent you from getting a good night's sleep.
In 2013, scientists from Basel University in Switzerland found evidence of a "lunar influence" on the sleep cycle. The small study involved 33 volunteers, who were unaware of the purpose of the study and unable to see the moon from their beds. The researchers found that during a full moon, these people took longer to fall asleep, slept 20 minutes less, and spent 30% less time in a deep sleep. The study implies that humans might have lunar rhythms. So the next time you are having trouble sleeping, check to see if it is a full moon.
How did the moon form?
We have a general idea of how the moon formed, but it is just a running theory. One hypothesis, termed the giant-impact hypothesis, is that an object roughly the size of our distant neighbor Mars, collided with the Earth billions of years ago. This then caused a portion of Earth to be ejected to space. This debris was eventually trapped by Earth's gravity and ended up in orbit. Over billions of years, the debris coalesced, creating the moon we see in the sky today.
While there is some evidence for this theory, there are also some questions that are yet to be answered. To confirm the theory, one step would be to drill into the moon's crust and remove samples. NASA is currently planning to do such a mission.
But, wouldn't that have knocked the Earth out of orbit?
Think about it. An object the size of Mars should have sent the ancient Earth flying through space. So why did it not? Astronomers think the collision actually occurred at a relatively low velocity, with the object striking the Earth at an oblique angle and an initial impactor velocity below 4 km/s. In fact, many astronomers believe that the Earth experienced dozens of such collisions with planet-sized bodies during the course of its formation.
Darker shadows will follow you on the lunar surface
We don't mean from a literary standpoint. Upon arriving on the moon, astronauts quickly noticed how much darker their shadows were, compared to being on the Earth. Is there something creepy going on? No, just physics.
On the Moon, there is no atmosphere so the light is not scattered. This causes shadows to be very dark. At the same time, where sunlight hits it appears very bright.
The lunar surface is also covered by fine particles of dust, which reflect light directly back toward the source. So, while areas of shadow are very dark, there is also reflected light bouncing around in the shadows from the lunar surface. This reflected light makes it possible to see objects within shadows. This is why it is possible to see the Apollo astronauts standing within the shadow of the LEM in photos of the moon landing - their suits were well illuminated by reflected light from around the lunar lander.
So, if you ever make it to the moon, don't be afraid of your shadow.
Moonquakes are a thing on the moon
Imagine traveling all the way to the moon just to experience a moonquake. They are far more common than you may think. But, do not worry; they are not as intense as earthquakes, although they can last much longer. Suggestions for the causes of the moonquakes include tremors from meteorite on the surface; the moon quivering as its interior cools and shrinks; and the effects of Earth's gravitational pull on the lunar interior. In fact, all of these may be occurring.
Plan your trips to the moon accordingly.
Expect some crazy temperature changes on the moon
Even aside from the lack of atmosphere, the moon is nowhere near as comfortable as Earth.
Temperatures on the moon range from boiling hot to freezing cold, depending on where the sun is shining. This is because there is no significant atmosphere on the moon to trap heat or insulate the surface.
The moon rotates on its axis in about 27 days, with daytime on one side of the moon lasting about 13 and a half days, followed by 13 and a half nights of darkness. The part of the surface in sunlight can reach 260 degrees Fahrenheit (126 degrees Celsius), but when the sun goes down, temperatures can dip to minus 280 F (-173 C). However, NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter measured temperatures as low as -413 F (-247 C) in a crater at the northern pole.
One day the moon will not be there
We have a long way to go before we get there, but eventually, it will happen. Each year, the moon drifts about 3.8 centimeters farther from the Earth. At this rate, in about 500 million years, the moon will be about 14,600 miles farther away than it is right now. In fact, this pushy relationship has been going on for 4.5 billion years. Why does this happen?
It is thought that this lunar retreat is the result of gravitational or tidal interactions between the Earth and the moon. In fact, the pace of this retreat is not constant and tends to fluctuate, often in conjunction with changes in Earth's climate, or geological changes.
The moon's gravity pulls on the Earth's oceans, creating a "tidal bulge," where the oceans are pulled slightly towards the moon. This bulge, in turn, exerts a gravitational effect on the moon. Because the Earth spins faster than the moon orbits it, the bulge pulls the moon along a bit as it rotates away. The moon's gravity counteracts this somewhat, in turn slowing the Earth's rotation. All this drag leads to a loss of angular momentum that is eventually compensated for by the moon speeding up. This pushes the moon further away.
The moon has water
NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter made an interesting discovery in 2009. Data from the orbiter indicated that there is water on the moon, locked in ice. This was later confirmed by another orbiter called the Lyman Alpha Mapping Project. LAMP allowed researchers to take a closer look at the water on the lunar surface. They discovered that water molecules move around the moon as the lunar surface warms and cools throughout the day. The molecules sit comfortably on the lunar surface until the surface heats up, causing the water to lift into the moon's atmosphere until it finds a cooler area, and then condenses and settles back down.
There is a big blob of metal just below the surface of the moon's south pole
And, researchers are not exactly sure what it is, however, there are some ideas. Below the moon's South Pole-Aitken basin, there is what researchers have gone on to describe as a large "anomaly" of high mass lodged in the mantle. It has so much mass that it is altering the moon's gravitational field. Some estimates put the anomaly's weight at about 2.4 quadrillion tons. Yet, what is even weirder is that researchers are not sure how the blob actually got there. It could be the remnants of an iron-nickel asteroid that collided with the moon about 4 billion years ago. Or, maybe it is a secret alien base?
No, the moon is not making you crazy
As mentioned above, full moons have been associated in popular culture with the supernatural, increases in violence, and even mental illness. However, this idea that the full moon can affect us negatively is a myth. There are a host of peer-reviewed studies that look at the effects of the full moon on human behavior. Their conclusion? There is no significant evidence stating that the moon is wreaking havoc on us. The full moon is not causing more seizures to occur; there is no evidence that a full moon increases the number of psychiatric visits, and surgery outcomes are still the same.
However, if you are transforming into a werewolf during a full moon, you should probably see a doctor about that.
The moon is two-faced
The two faces of the moon have caused a lot of trouble over the years in the scientific community. The near side of the moon is thinner and has many large, flat basins, called maria; while the far side is thicker and is densely covered in craters but with few maria. Researchers have used different models to try to explain this discrepancy. However, they have not had much luck. Currently, one popular theory is that a "giant impactor" slammed into the moon, leaving the battered appearance across the far side.
You might have expected that aliens would come up at some point. The moon is a hotbed for conspiracy theories. Some have proposed that the moon is an alien base or even a spacecraft itself. Nevertheless, one of our favorite conspiracy theories centers around the Apollo 11 mission, during which, something odd happened that has caused conspiracy theorists to go wild. Upon the Apollo 11 Lunar Module touching down, with the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, radio communications were cut short for about two minutes. Some conspiracy theorists say that during these two minutes, the astronauts found evidence of alien life.
There is some weird stuff on the moon
And we put it there. Humans have left a number of objects on the moon's lunar surface. If you were to go up to the moon right now, you would find a fallen astronaut memorial, six American flags, golf balls, human excrement, a few messages of goodwill, and even a falcon feather.
Do you think the moon will become an important future spaceport? What else do you think we will learn about the moon in the coming decades? For information on the moon, space, and everything in between, be sure to stop by and check out our articles here.
We had the chance to speak to Dr. Stiavelli, the head of NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope project