The moon is earth’s only natural satellite and is its natural companion in space. It was known to the Romans as ‘Luna’ and ‘Selene’ to the Greeks. The moon is an object that is widely observed by both amateur and professional astronomers. It’s features can be clearly seen by the naked eye and even more so through a paid of binoculars. The most obvious of these landmarks are the black, dark areas that cover the earth’s surface. These are known as ‘mare’ or seas, as astronomers in ancient times thought of these areas as large body’s of water. We know now that they are large pools of solidified lava. The moon also is covered in several impressive mountain ranges with some mountains that are almost as high as the earth’s tallest peak, Mount Everest.
The moon was formed around 4.5 billion years ago when the earth was young. It is thought that a large object around the size or the planet Mars crashed into the new Earth creating immense levels of heat which caused the two planets to merge together. the debris created by this event was flung out into space and settled into orbit around the earth and eventually this debris clumped together to for the moon we see today. the reason the moon is covered in craters is that it experienced heavy bombardment from asteroids around 4 billion years ago. the evidence of this is still visible on the moon’s surface today as the moon has no atmosphere so there is no rain or wind to erode the craters. The earth would have also suffered this bombardment of asteroids but most of its craters have been eroded over time due to the weather.
The moon is a brilliant object for the causal astronomer to observe as it is constantly changing in its appearance to us. A full moon lights up the night sky so that even in the middle of the night there is enough light to make it look like it is the moments before an early sunrise. The full moon can be a pain for astronomers too though as it creates a lot of natural light pollution that drowns out the fainter stars. The new moon therefore is often the best phase to do stargazing in, unless you want to observe to moon of course! My favourite phase of the moon is the waxing or waning crescent as this enables me to use my telescope to see the beautiful mountain ranges on the moon’s surface. However, a full moon is lovely for photo opportunities with a normal digital camera. I have managed to get some nice ones over time. The moon’s phases happen as the moon orbits the earth once every 27.3 days. A new moon occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth, which means we see very little of its reflected light from the sun. A full moon occurs when the moon is on the far side of the earth from the sun, meaning we see most of the light that is reflected of it from the sun. We always see the same side of the moon. This is because it turns on its axis the same amount of time it takes to travel around the earth and this is called synchronous rotation. Satellites and space probes have traveled to the far side of the moon but I have always wondered what the moon would look like if we turned it around to face us for one night. That would be interesting.
Some of my moon photos…
Finally a few luna facts…
- a blue moon is when there are two full moons within the same month, one at the beginning of the month and one at the end
- a lunar eclipse occurs when the earth passes between the sun and the moon. This makes the moon appear red for a time.
- a solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and the earth and the moon’s shadow falls onto earth. Earth is the only place in the solar system where a perfect total solar eclipse can occur as the moon is just the right distance away from the sun for its size to block out the sun.
- the moon is 384,000 km away from earth and 3476 km in diameter
- the temperature on the moon ranges from -173 degrees C to 123 degrees C, the huge fluctuation is due to the lack of an atmosphere to stabilise the temperatures
- it is the largest moon in our solar system
A few pictures I took of the super moon that I saw in May 2012…
- Information on the moon included in this article comes from “Galaxy” (pages 48-53) ©HarperCollins Ltd. in association with Royal Museums Greenwich (Royal Observatory Greenwich) 2013 ISBN 978-0-00-793598-7
- The photos of the moon and super moon in the 2 galleries above were taken by myself and are therefore owned by me.