International Observe the Moon Night

Saturday, October 5 is International Observe the Moon Night. This night is a worldwide celebration of lunar science and exploration held annually since 2010. One day each year, everyone on Earth is invited to observe and learn about the Moon together, and to celebrate the cultural and personal connections we have with our nearest neighbor in space. Please come and join the Wilderness Center Astronomy Club at the TWC Observatory beginning at 7:00 pm to observe and learn about Earth’s Moon. The Planetarium Show Moons: Worlds of Mystery will be shown at 7:00 and 8:00 pm.

The Moon has always been an object of wonder and contemplation. From the beginning of human history, people have watched the Moon. As the centuries have passed, it has been a god, a goddess, a timekeeper and a calendar. All cultures down through history have had their own myths and legends about the Moon and their own historical and religious relationships to the Moon. In ancient mythology the Moon is often a goddess who is paired with a Sun god, such as brother and sister, Artemis and Apollo, or husband and wife, as in the Native American myth in which the Sun and Moon are Chieftain and wife and the stars are their children. Native American names for the Moon include “Old Woman Who Never Dies” and the “Eternal One.” There are myths explaining the appearance of the Moon. A common western description for the mottled surface is a “Man in the Moon.” However, toads, frogs and rabbits in the Moon are other common shapes appearing in many mythologies.

Our word lunar comes from the Latin word Luna, which is the Latin name for the Moon goddess. People once believed that moonlight had a powerful effect on human behavior. If during a full Moon someone was acting strangely they were called moonstruck, crazy or a lunatic. Priests would study the Moon’s reflection in a mirror, believing that if they looked directly at the Moon, it would make them crazy. Superstitions about the Moon’s evil influence were so strongly held that some people refused to sleep anywhere that moonbeams might touch them.

The Moon’s waxing and waning have made it a symbol of time, change and repetitive cycles. The Moon’s cycle repeats exactly the same month after month, new, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full, waning gibbous, third or last quarter, waning crescent and back to new. All peoples everywhere could and still can observe the changing Moon. The words Monday and month are derived from the word moon.

As time went on we found new ways to tell our stories in literature, movies, and music. The Moon was the subject of the first science fiction film ever made, “A Trip to the Moon” released in 1902. Since that first film there have been a multitude of Moon related movies released, including “2001: A Space Odyssey.”, “Moon Zero Two,” “Apollo 13,” “In the Shadow of the Moon,” “Despicable Me,” and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” to name a few. Classical music offers various references to moonlight. The Suite Begamasque by Claude Debussy includes a movement known as “Clair De Lune” or “Moonlight”, which was probably named for the poem by the same title by Paul Verlaine. And some of us can’t forget Frank Sinatra singing “Fly Me to the Moon.” As with film and music, there have been many stories written about the Moon. One of the most intriguing is Jules Verne’s “From the Earth to the Moon” which made a few interesting predictions – the US would be the first to send humans to the moon, there would be three crew members, the crew would launch from Florida and would splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. All of these predictions came true 106 years after the novel was published.

After the invention of the telescope the moon came to life as a strange, yet familiar, alien world with mountains and craters, bright-colored highlands and smooth dark patches called maria or seas. The Moon became an object for scientific inquiry and study. The Moon and Earth have been companions in space for nearly 4.5 billion years. Through this time they have shaped each other through their gravitational connection. 4.5 billion years ago the Earth had a six-hour day. Over time the Moon’s gravitational pull on the Earth has slowed the Earth’s rotation so that today the Earth spins once on its axis every 24 hours. The impact that formed the Moon may have tipped the Earth contributing to the Earth’s 23.5-degree tilt which gives us our seasons. The Moon helps to keep this tilt stable and our seasons consistent.  The Moon’s gravitational pull gives us our tides. Billions of years ago the Moon was 10 times closer to Earth and the tides were 1000 times higher than they are today. Taking into account Earth’s much faster spin, these tides pounded the coastal areas causing massive erosion, adding minerals to the oceans. Scientists believe these minerals may have been essential for life to evolve as quickly as it did. Without the Moon there may not have been life on Earth.

This year we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing by Apollo 11. Without the Moon humans may not have been drawn to leave the Earth and explore another world. The Apollo program drove technology including rockets, computers, camera and TV innovations, materials engineering to withstand the rigors of launch, space and work on the Moon, heavy load moving capability, solar panels and so much more. And all these technologies were used to create and improve the products we use every day.

The Moon rocks brought back by the Apollo astronauts taught us much about the Moon such as, the Moon is ancient and its surface preserves its early history – a history that is common to all terrestrial planets. The Moon and Earth are related leading to the Giant Impact hypothesis as the predominant formation explanation. The youngest Moon rocks are virtually as old as the oldest earth rocks. The Moon is lifeless – it has no living organisms, fossils or native organic compounds. Craters were formed by impacts – not volcanos. In its early history, the Moon had a magma ocean – the lunar highlands contain remnants of rocks that floated to its surface. Lunar basins were filled by lava flows. The Apollo Moon rocks are still being studied. They still have much to teach us not only about the Moon but about Earth and by extension Mercury, Venus and Mars.

So as we celebrate this year’s International Observe the Moon Night and the 50th anniversary of the first Moon landing let’s remember all that the Moon has provided us. The Moon has inspired storytellers, artists, musicians, scientist, engineers and astronauts. Going forward, what other incredible personal, cultural and scientific achievements will the Moon inspire next?

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