Above photo courtesy of Beth Grosvenor Boland

What is it about the Moon?

From the beginning of time, the Moon has inspired fear, superstition, mystery, inspiration, and love. Cavemen and witch doctors, medicine men and dreamers, bards and poets, writers and spiritualists, astronomers and space engineers…all have been enchanted and drawn into the Moon's embrace. I still find the opening of Alfred Noyes's poem, “The Highwayman,” to be vivid and haunting. I memorized the whole poem as a girl (bribed by my grandfather) and still think of it when I look up at the full moon on a windy night.

The wind was a torrent of darkness among the gusty trees.   
The moon was a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas.   
The road was a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor,   
And the highwayman came riding—
The highwayman came riding, up to the old inn-door.

September 6, 2014 is International Observe The Moon Night

I confess I spend so much time immersing myself in the study of trees, plants, and birds, I often forget to look up and learn more about the amazing light show our Creator puts on for us every night. The Super Moon of two weeks ago was mesmerizing in its size and brightness (my friend Beth Grosvenor Boland captured it beautifully with her camera – see above), so while I was thinking about this amazing piece of the sky, I started digging around to learn more. Happily, I discovered there's an event coming up next month called International Observe The Moon Night (InOMN). In its website's own words:

International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) is an annual event that is dedicated to encouraging people to ‘look up’ and take notice of our nearest neighbor, the Moon. From looking at the Moon with a naked eye to using the most sensitive telescope, every year on the same day, people from around the world hold events and activities that celebrate our Moon.

Over 250 InOMN events are scheduled throughout the country for this year, so you can look for one near you or create your own. The InOMN website has a wonderful collection of resources about things you can do to join the fun, on your own or with friends. While a telescope can give you a closer look, even a good pair of binoculars will show features of the Moon you might miss with the naked eye.

Get to know the moon

Here's a fun Q & A about the moon. You might enjoy and use some of these factoids to impress your friends, children, or grandchildren. (From “Moon Viewing Ideas for the Whole Family,” courtesy of The Lunar and Planetary Institute. “A Quick Reference Guide To Help Adults Become Lunar Rock Stars”)

  • Why does the Moon shine?  Just like the planets, our Moon does not make its own light. It “shines” because it reflects the Sun's light. Our Moon is much closer to us than the Sun or other planets, so it appears much brighter to people on Earth. It is the brightest object in our night sky (when it is visible at night). Around the time of the full Moon, the Moon can help us to see at night!
  • How big is our Moon? Our Moon is about 2,100 miles across (about 3500 kilometers). This is about the distance from New York City to Albuquerque, New Mexico!
  • How far away is our Moon? Our Moon is just about 250,000 miles from Earth (about 380,000 kilometers). If our Earth were the size of a basketball, our Moon would be the size of a tennis ball. At that scale, they would be about 24 feet apart!
  • How old is our Moon? Our Moon is about 4 and a half billion years old (that’s a lot of birthdays!). It is just a little bit younger than the Earth and the rest of the solar system.
  • How did our Moon form? Using evidence from Moon rocks collected by the Apollo astronauts, and observations of our Moon’s orbit, scientists think that our Moon formed just after Earth formed. They think that a giant asteroid – about half the size of Earth – crashed into Earth. The asteroid broke apart. Some of it became a part of the Earth and some of it (and some of Earth, too) was knocked into orbit around Earth. Earth may have looked a little like Saturn does today – surrounded by a band or rings made of bits of debris. Eventually these rocky bits orbiting Earth clumped together, forming our Moon. This scientific hypothesis of our Moon’s formation, called “the Giant Impact Hypothesis,” best explains the scientific evidence at this time. As with all hypotheses, scientists studying the Moon will continue to gather and interpret scientific evidence and measure it against the 4 Giant Impact Hypothesis. Scientists may modify the hypothesis in the future based on new evidence. Science is a very exciting field – our understanding of our world, solar system, and universe gets refined as new discoveries are made!
  • LunarAreasWhat are the bright and dark areas on our Moon? The lighter areas you see are called the Lunar Highlands. They are the oldest, roughest, most cratered part of the Moon. The rocks of the highlands formed when the Moon was young and hot (from all those bits slamming into each other to make the Moon!) The Moon was so hot that at least part of it melted, forming an ocean of magma across the Moon's surface. This ocean cooled and solidified into the Moon's rocky crust. Rocks collected from the Lunar Highlands are between about 4 and 4-1/2 billion years old!

The darker, circular areas you can see are called the Maria (pronounced “mar-ee-ah”). “Maria” is the Latin word for “seas;' these areas looked like seas to early astronomers. The circular basins formed when really big asteroids hit the Moon. Much later, after all the really big impacts had finished in our solar system, magma from deep inside the Moon made its way to the surface and flowed through cracks. The runny lava filled the low basins and cooled, forming a smooth dark rock surface in the big basins.

Take a little time this year and get to know more about our nearest celestial neighbor The Moon. Want to know more? Here's an interesting NASA video about The Moon:

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