The Moon has been Earth’s constant companion for most of its history, even though the mechanism of its formation is still the subject of some debate in astronomical circles. However, the Moon is one of the main driving forces not only behind the oceanic tides on Earth, but also the tides that lift up dry land. If you did not know that, read on, and we will tell you about ten other things you probably did not know about the Moon.
An Atmosphere After All
Contrary to popular belief, the Moon does have an atmosphere of sorts. Findings obtained during NASA’s LADEE (Lunar Atmosphere and Dust Environment Explorer) mission point to a tenuous atmosphere consisting of helium, neon and argon around the Moon. The helium and neon components derive from the solar wind, which is a continuous emission of energetic particles by the Sun, while the argon is generated by the radioactive decay of potassium in the Moon’s crust.
Some Apollo astronauts noticed that during sunrises and sunsets on the Moon, moon dust seems to rise, and hover just above the surface. Exactly why and how this happens is still a mystery, but it is believed to be caused by dust particles being electrically charged at these times. One of the functions of the LADEE mission is to study the phenomenon, and results are expected soon.
Instead of being round like a beach ball, the Moon is decidedly egg-shaped, and the only reason it appears to be round is because one pointed end is aimed right at Earth. Nor is the Moon’s center of mass located at its geometric center, and is instead located at a point roughly 2 miles (3.2 km) off-center.
Regular quakes have been found to originate several miles below the Moon’s surface, which are believed to be caused by tidal effects due to Earth’s gravitational pull. Some moon quakes are even powerful enough to cause small cracks to appear on the surface, through which various gases are known to escape. However, the exact causes of the quakes are yet to be determined, but it seems unlikely to be the result of a molten core and plastic mantle in the Moon’s interior. By comparison, the Moon’s core accounts for only 2 to 4% of the Moon’s mass, whereas the iron core of the Earth accounts for roughly 30% of the Earth’s mass. Investigations are ongoing, but a definitive explanation of the Moon’s geological activity seems to be a long way off.
Receding from Earth
All actions have opposite and equal reactions as Newton demonstrated, but in the case of the Earth-Moon system, this reaction is causing the Moon to recede from Earth at a rate of roughly 3.8 cm (1.4 inches) every year. This is happening because the Moon is slowing Earth’s rotation, and as a result, the Moon “uses” the lost energy to propel itself away from Earth. The rate of recession is known precisely because astronomers regularly fire powerful lasers at the Moon, and some of the light is returned by mirrors placed on the Moon by Apollo astronauts. The time the light takes to return to sensors on Earth is converted into distance measurements.
Same Apparent Size as Sun
We see solar eclipses the way we do only by a happy coincidence; although the Sun is 400 times bigger than the Moon, it is also 400 times further away, so when a solar eclipse occurs, the Moon very nearly covers the Sun’s disc.
Flags on Moon Now White
Many images of the Moon’s surface show that of the six flags planted on the Moon by Apollo astronauts, five are still upright. However, the harsh solar radiation on the Moon has caused the color on the flags to fade away leaving them a sparkling white, exactly like a flag fades on Earth if it is exposed to direct sunlight for extended periods. In case you did not know, the flags were made of Nylon by Annin Flagmakers, based in Roseland, New Jersey, and they cost the princely sum of $5.50 each at the time of delivery to NASA.
High Speed Internet Available
Using four satellites, NASA has established a faster internet connection to the Moon than you are likely to ever encounter at any WI-FI spot on Earth. However, instead of cabling, NASA uses high-powered lasers to transmit data at the rate of 19.44 megabytes p/sec, which is 4,800 times faster than any radio-based transmission. Demonstrating their Lunar Laser Communication Demonstration (LLCD) technology in 2013, NASA obtained download speeds from the Moon of 622 megabytes p/sec, which is just a little faster than the 10 to 15 megabytes per second required for high-definition TV or video chats. So while it might be possible to use this superfast link to provide entertainment to bored future astronauts, more practical applications include the tracking of solar flares, forest fires, and weather conditions in close to real-time.
Landing Conspiracy Theories Debunked
No Dark Side of Moon
Contrary to what you may have heard or read somewhere, both sides of the Moon receive the same amount of sunlight. We only see one side of the Moon, and sometimes when it is illuminated by sunlight reflecting off Earth, the side furthest away from us is illuminated by the Sun, which is also where the light comes from that is reflected on the side of the Moon that is turned towards us.