HOW THE MOON WORKS
THE LONGEST LIST OF THE LONGEST
STUFF AT THE LONGEST DOMAIN NAME AT LONG LAST
How does the Moon work?
The moon is a funny thing, isn’t it? You can be over
it, shoot for it, cry for it, and very rarely, even see a blue one! All of this
not to mention that Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin actually walked on it!
Millions of people look up to the moon every night, trying to make sense of all
the shadows and illuminations, while others just simply like to gaze upon its
beauty. But what is that round thing in the sky really? And, besides supplying
us with that little bit of light at night, what does it do exactly? Just how
does the moon work?
The History of the Moon
the moon has been around as long as the rest of the solar system. But the moon
is studied more than any other planet and that may be because the moon actually
isn’t a planet at all – it’s a satellite. And not only is a satellite, it’s the
only natural satellite that the Earth has. Plus, it’s closer to the Earth than
any other celestial object. While 240,250 miles may seem like a great distance
to most of us, when you’re referring to something that’s in the solar system,
and how far it is from our Earth, it’s not actually that far at all. This is
probably why people have been studying the moon for thousands of years, and why
ancient civilizations such as the Greeks and the Romans actually revered it as a
kind of god or goddess.
Aristotle looked at the moon and concluded that the
dark patches on it were seas while the lighter areas were land. The lighter
spots on the moon were, and still are, called terrae while the darker areas are
called maria. Aristotle also believed that the moon was a perfect sphere and
that the Earth was the center of the universe. However, Galileo changed all of
this as soon as he looked at the moon through a telescope and found that the
moon was actually filled with craters and mountains. Galileo also realized that
the appearance of the moon changed in just the course of a month, and that he
could also measure how tall the mountains on it were by looking at and measuring
the shadows that were cast by the mountains. From his observations, Galileo also
concluded that the Earth was not the center of the universe, contrary to what
Aristotle had believed.
It’s because the moon is so close to the Earth that
humans have always wanted to travel to it. And it was this urge to travel to the
moon that led to the “space race” in the 1960s between Russia and the United
States. This space race was an unofficial competition between the two countries
to see who could make it to the moon first, and have their astronauts be the
first to plant their feet on the object in the night sky. But before any
astronauts would be able to do that, both countries had to do a bit of
investigating on the moon first. Because of this, they sent up robotic probes
that took pictures of the moon, and even landed on its surface. Then, in July
1969, the United States won the space race when they sent up Neil Armstrong and
Buzz Aldrin, who successfully landed on the moon. These men took pictures,
observed and analyzed the surface, and even brought back 842 pounds of moon
rocks and different dust samples.
It was this historic mission that made it possible
for us to study the moon even further, and become more familiar with the moon
and all that it encompasses. One of the things that was discovered and learned
more about, was the surface of the moon.
The Surface of the Moon
As we discussed earlier, there are several dark
areas on the moon and these spots are called maria. And while Aristotle may not
have been entirely correct in his theories about the moon, he was correct about
one thing at least. That was the fact that maria are seas on the moon, or at
least some of them are. In total, there are six seas on the moon. These are: the
Mare Tranquilitatis, or the Sea of Tranquility, which is where the astronauts
landed; the Mare Imbrium, or the Sea of Showers, which is the largest mare; the
Mare Serenitatis, or the Sea of Serenity; the Mare Nubium, or the Sea of Clouds;
the Mare Nectaris, or the Sea of Nectar; and Oceanus Procellarum, or the Ocean
of Storms. The Apollo astronauts discovered that the maria were made up of
low-lying plains that were about one or two miles lower than the average lunar
elevation. And while these maria might be quite large and although there are
several of them, the maria on the moon only make up fifteen percent of its
The rest of the moon is covered by terrae, and the astronauts also discovered
that this terrae lies at about two to three miles that lie above the average
lunar elevation. This terrae covers most of the moon’s surface and among that
are many, many craters. Craters oftentimes have peaks and terraced walls and are
created when meteors hit the moon’s surface. The material from the different
meteors can be ejected from the crater and this can create rays that actually
form and emanate within it. Craters on the moon come in all different shapes and
sizes and they even form in the maria on the moon. However, most craters form on
the terrae and in some areas, the surface is quite dense from the presence of
craters. But, craters aren’t the only things on the surface of the moon.
There are also multi-ringed basins on the moon.
These basins were also formed from different impacts but these impacts were much
larger and were strong enough to actually send out shockwaves and push mountain
ranges up. The Orientale Basin is the largest and most well-known of these
different basins. Also on the moon are different volcanoes and tube-like
channels that are believed to be from lava and old lave that flowed through
them. This was a huge discovery for scientists, astronomers and astronauts
because it means that there was a time that the moon was actually volcanic.
While there may be dust and particles on the
surface of the moon, there is no true soil. In order for soil to be considered
as true soil, it must have living matter in it. But what’s on the surface of the
moon has no living things in it. Instead, it is made up primarily of rock
particles and volcanic glass fragments that have been ground down to a fine
powder. There are also of course, larger rocks interspersed through the
regolith, which is what the “soil” on the moon is called. These rocks are most
likely much like the moon rocks the Apollo astronauts brought back with them,
and from studying them, scientists and astronomers have been able to learn a lot
more about the moon.
One of the things that was learned was that the
maria on the moon is made of basalt, which is a rock that was derived from
cooled lava. The terrae is also made up of rock although it’s a different kind
of rock. These rocks are called anorthosite and breccia. The rock of the terrae
regions are much older than the maria regions, and are about 4 to 4.3 billion
years old. Maria rocks on the other hand are about 3.1 to 3.8 billion years old.
The rocks on the earth contain almost no moisture, and resemble rocks or bricks
that have been baked in an oven. Lunar rocks are very similar to the rocks that
can be found in the mantle of the Earth. The oxygen isotopes found in the moon
and the Earth are also very similar. This was a huge discovery because it showed
that the Earth and the moon formed at approximately the same distance away from
However there is a major difference between the
surface of the moon and the surface of the Earth. This is that the density of
the moon is much less than that of the Earth, which means that there is no iron
core in the moon like there is the Earth. Astronauts from the Apollo mission
also placed scientific packages on the moon that were used to collect even more
data and information. Magnetometers were among these packages and the
information that these magnetometers collected also substantiated the fact that
the moon had no iron core, because they didn’t detect a magnetic field.
How did the Moon Form?
Among the many things that scientists wanted to know
before that historic mission that Armstrong and Aldrin took, one of the largest
questions they had was how the moon was formed. How did we ever get this great,
brilliant thing in the night sky anyway? After the Apollo 11 mission which saw
astronauts landing on the moon, there were three different hypotheses formed
about how the moon ever came to take shape in the first place.
One hypothesis was the Double Planet, or the Condensation Hypothesis. This
theory suggested that the Earth and the moon were formed at the same time. There
was also the Capture hypothesis, which suggested that the moon was already
formed and moving around in space when it got too close to the Earth and the
gravity from our planet captured it and kept it in its orbit. Lastly, there was
the Fission hypothesis, which suggested that the Earth was spinning so quickly
on its axis that a portion of molten crust from the Earth actually flew off and
then formed the moon. Unfortunately, none of these hypotheses seemed
scientifically possible and therefore, were disregarded.
The Double Planet hypothesis was thrown out
because, if the Earth and the moon were formed at the same time, they should
have the same composition, which they don’t. The Capture hypothesis was also
disregarded because although the gravity on Earth is sufficient, it’s simply not
strong enough to pull something as large as the moon into its orbit. And lastly,
the Fission hypothesis was also concluded to be impossible because the Earth
simply cannot spin quickly enough for a piece of molten to fly off of it. So,
how did the moon form?
It was in the 1970s that scientists came up with a
new theory for how the moon formed, and this was called the Giant Impactor
hypothesis. This theory states that, about 4.45 billion years ago when the Earth
was still very young, another celestial body hit the Earth on an angle. This
caused debris from the Earth’s crust and mantle into space, which then formed
the moon. The celestial body itself that originally hit the Earth, melted and
merged into the Earth’s interior.
The Giant Impactor theory has been studied in great
scientific detail and computer simulations have been conducted time and time
again to determine whether or not the theory is possible. All of this research
has determined that the Giant Impactor theory is the most plausible of all the
hypotheses and that it would explain why the moon and the Earth have the same
composition, why the moon has no iron core (because the iron core would have
remained on Earth at the time of impact), and why the moon rocks are the density
and composition that they are (like they have been baked in an oven.) This
theory has now formed the basis for how the moon was formed.
Phases of the Moon
If you’ve ever looked at the night sky, you know
just how different the moon can look on different nights. Sometimes you can see
the full moon, while other times you might only be able to see half of it. Of
course, on some evenings, the only glimpse of the moon we get is a tiny sliver,
while other times we can’t see the moon at all. And, if you have ever looked at
a calendar, you can see that these phases of the moon aren’t random. Scientists
know when the moon will be in a particular phase, and just how much of the moon
will be showing during that phase.
These different phases are due to the orbit of the
moon. The moon rotates around the Earth in a 29-day cycle. During the rotation,
sometimes it is behind the Earth and other times the moon is between the sun and
the Earth. The sun though, always shines on the moon and causes a different
portion of the moon to light up. This is why we sometimes see different portions
of the moon. But since the Earth was first formed, its rotation has become much
slower and it has moved farther away from the Earth. But, because the moon is
tidally connected to the Earth, the Earth’s gravity continues to drag it along
in its rotation. This is why the same side of the moon is always facing Earth.
Return to the Moon
No one has landed on the moon since 1972. But that
doesn’t mean that scientists have made themselves happy with that. Astronomers,
scientists, and researchers are always trying to find new ways to land on the
moon. One of the main reasons for this is because in 1994 when Clementine, the
orbiting probe, was sent up, it picked up reflections that were consistent with
the presence of ice. This was a huge revelation because it meant that there was
water on the moon, which wasn’t thought to be the case before. Then the Lunar
Prospector was also later sent up, and that detected hydrogen, which was thought
to be hydrogen formed from ice.
The Apollo astronauts never saw this ice because
it’s located at the South Pole of the moon, which was an area that the
astronauts never traveled to. The discovery meant that a lunar base could be set
up on the moon, which would mean more exploration and more scientific findings.
It’s also thought that if there’s water on the moon, it could be split by
electrolysis into oxygen, which would sustain life on the moon, and hydrogen,
which could be combined with the oxygen to form fuel to fuel rocket ships. And,
if a lunar base could be established and rocket ships could be launched, this
means that other planets such as Mars, and the rest of the solar system, could
The moon is no doubt a mystery. In fact, its
mystery is one reason why so many people enjoy looking up at the moon and
studying it so closely. But what’s even more fascinating are the scientific
discoveries that have already been made about the moon and the possibilities
that it beholds. Imagine one day being able to launch a rocket from the moon and
learning things about Mars that we never knew before. The moon can truly open up
a whole new world of possibilities for those of us here on Earth!