What can I say about the moon that hasn't been said, better, by poets, scientists, astrologists, lovers, and the wolves of the North American plains?
The answer: Not a damn thing. The best I can do for you here is share these (rather unpoetic) facts.
The moon is earth's only natural satellite, and one of the few objects in the sky that you can see with a fair amount of detail. (The other is the sun. I wouldn't recommend looking for details on the sun however.) It is our closest neighbor in the universe, and the only other celestial body upon which human beings have walked. (For the purposes of this write-up, I'm going to assume that man has, in fact, walked on the moon, and that it wasn't an elaborate hoax).
At the time of this writing (and for the foreseeable future) only 12 human beings have had the privilege of walking on the moon.
- Neil Armstrong - 20 July 1969 - Apollo 11, Commander
- Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin - 20 July 1969 - Apollo 11, Lunar Module Pilot
- Charles "Pete" Conrad - 19 Nov. 1969 - Apollo 12, Commander
- Alan Bean - 19 Nov 1969 - Apollo 12, Lunar Module Pilot
- Alan Shepard - 5 Feb. 1971 - Apollo 14, Commander
- Edgar Mitchell - 5 Feb. 1971 - Apollo 14, Lunar Module Pilot
- James Irwin - 30 July 1971 - Apollo 15, Commander
- David Scott - 30 July 1971 - Apollo 15, Lunar Module Pilot
- John Young - 21-23 April 1972 - Apollo 16, Commander
- Charles Duke - 21-23 April 1972 - Apollo 16, Lunar Module Pilot
- Eugene Cernan - 12-13 December 1972 - Apollo 17, Commander
- Harrison Schmitt - 11-13 Dec. 1972 - Apollo 17, Lunar Module Pilot
Note the conspicuous absence of Apollo 13. Apollo 13 was not skipped, like the thirteenth floor of a building is skipped. Indeed, Apollo 13 was launched on 11 April 1970, but unfortunately it never made its way to the moon. You can read about that ill-fated mission elsewhere.
But I want to walk on the moon!
Okay, let's say that you were to walk on the moon. One of the first things you would notice, right after you realize that you are currently 238,866 miles (384,400 kilometers) from the nearest pay-toilet, and the horizon is significantly closer than what you're used to, is that your weight has dropped to 1/6 of its earth-weight. (Your mass, quite predictably, does not change, so you will not need smaller pants.) The gravitational pull of the moon is significantly less than that of earth, and for a human body which has evolved a system of muscles adapted to earth's gravitational pull, you can jump and throw objects with superhuman effects.
The next thing you would probably notice is that you are standing ankle deep in some sort of dusty crap. The dust is called regolith. Regolith is a rocky/dusty mixture which is produced by meteor impacts. With no atmosphere (and no cleaning staff), the dust from such impacts lays where it falls. Also, because of the lack of atmosphere, meteors do not burn in the sky like they do on earth, and surface strikes occur much more easily, and frequently. Because of those two conditions, most of the entire moon's surface is covered in craters and regolith.
So, you've spent most of the day walking around on the moon (and you're amazed that your legs are not tired yet), and now you're waiting for the earth to go down, so you could enjoy a lovely "earthset", perhaps with tea and biscuits. You are going to be waiting for a very long time. You've perhaps noticed that the same side of the moon always faces the earth. This is because the moon rotates synchronously in relation to earth. It's rotation is phase-locked with its orbit around the earth. This is because of the tidal pull of the earth on the moon. This phenomenon can be seen among most satellites in the solar system. (Pluto, however, is the only planet that also is in synchronous rotation to its moon, Charon). Since our moon is so large in proportion with the earth, it's exerting its own tidal pull - witness the tides of the ocean. This pull is doing the the same thing to earth that the earth has done to the moon, but much more gradually. The tides are slowing the earth's rotation so that eventually, earth will be locked in synchronous rotation with the moon. However, the moon does wobble a bit, because its orbit is elliptical. Because of the wobble, you can get a small (very small - only a degree or two) glimpse of the dark side occasionally.
Because of the "closeness" in size between the earth and the moon, they are sometimes referred to as double planet. The moon does not orbit the earth as such, but rather, they both rotate around a center of mass, or a barycenter, like an unbalanced dumb-bell. The barycenter is actually about 1,000 miles under the surface of the earth, so we usually just say the moon orbits the earth.
One of the less remarkable things you'd notice during your walk around the moon is that your compass doesn't work. The moon has no magnetic field. Luckily there are no woods in which you can get lost.
Okay, I'll just admire it from here
From earth, the most notable aspect of the moon is the fact that it goes through phases during its orbit. The phases exist because varying amounts of the visible surface of the moon are illuminated by the sun during its orbit. The new moon occurs when the side of the moon facing the earth is not illuminated at all, and the full moon occurs when it's completely bathed in sunlight. Other phases include the gibbous moon where the moon's earth-face is mostly lit, and the crescent moon where it is slightly lit. Then, of course, there is the half-moon when (duh) half the moon is illuminated.
Another noticeable aspect of the moon from earth are the craters and mountains and plains (oh, my). The craters, as stated above, were made by meteor collisions. The plains are called maria (seas), so called because they were once thought to be bodies of water. The maria appear to be darker than the rest of the moon. That's because they are darker than the rest of the moon. They are darker because they were craters which filled with the moon's volcanic lava after particularly nasty meteor strikes. The maria are what create the man in the moon image. Space photos show that there are no maria on the dark side of the moon, although the entire hemisphere is pockmarked and cratered.
The moon is also the cause of a phenomenon known as an eclipse. A solar eclipse is when the moon passes between the earth and the sun. Because of a strange unique quirk in nature, the moon is just the right distance away from the earth to appear exactly the same size as the sun. Because of this we get a bonus light show during a total eclipse. That bonus is that the surface of the sun is blocked out, but the corona of the sun is still very visible, (visible enough to burn out your retinae) and during those rare total eclipses it appears as if the sun is black but still shines. If you want to view a total eclipse, you can buy a special box which dims the light to a sufficiently non-blinding magnitude.
Lunar Eclipses occur when the earth gets between the sun and the moon. You may guess that there is no such quirk that makes the earth appear the same size as the sun, and during a total lunar eclipse, the whole sun gets blocked and the moon goes black, or at least very dark. A total lunar eclipse is when the moon enters the umbra of the earth - or the darkest shadow of the earth, and a partial lunar eclipse is when the moon enters the penumbra, which makes the moon appear a reddish color. In the book of Revelation in the Christian Bible there is a reference to the moon turning to blood. This is most likely a prophecy that there will be a partial lunar eclipse in the end times which makes the moon appear blood red.
So, where did it come from?
There are a few theories on the moon's origin. One of the leading theories is that the moon was formed as a result of an enormous terrestrial collision. A large body - perhaps even the size of Mars - skipped off the earth sending debris into space, which eventually accumulated into a central mass. (I don't really buy that one, but what the hell do I know?) Another theory is that the moon was formed at the same time and in conjunction with the earth's formation.
Been there, done that
The United States and The Soviet Union spent much of the sixties engaged in a space race, to see who could reach the moon first. The US won in 1969 with the touchdown of Apollo 11, and a mere three years later, that was it. No more moon trips. In fact, if we wanted to send someone to the moon right now, we couldn't do it. We are currently unequipped to send someone there. Oh, sure, we have the technology to build the things necessary to go, but that's the thing, we'd have to build it all. So, it seems that the moon will remain unmolested for a while.
One of the reasons I've seen cited for the fact that noone's gone to the moon in almost 3 decades is because there is no money in it. Mining for resources on the moon would be ludicrous because everything we need can be so cheaply obtained here. Any research that would be done on the moon wouldn't be beneficial, or the cost would outweigh the benefit. (Any stories you've heard about Coca-Cola or Nike shining their logo on the moon are mere urban legends- and not even good ones).
But I think I've discovered a plan on paying for it. Let the Fox network pay for it. Who would not watch the reality show, Survivor, if it was set on the moon? With the proper hype, that could be the most lucrative ventures in broadcast history!