To The Moon, Alice!

Man first stepped on the surface of the moon fifty years ago this month. To my knowledge, women have never set foot there, although Ralph Kramden famously wanted to send his wife Alice to the moon on occasion. This Alice has never had a desire to travel to the moon, but Earth’s satellite has always fascinated me. Learning more about the moon just increases my interest in this heavenly body.

While I may not be able to pick out specific stars in the night sky, the moon is a snap to spot. It’s the second brightest object in the sky after the sun. Since the sun isn’t shining at night, that makes spotting the moon a no-brainer. Moonlight is romantic here on Earth, but it’s AWOL on the moon. The surface of the moon is actually dark even though it looks bright against the night sky.

And if the moon looks familiar when you spot it, well it should. The moon always shows the same side to the Earth, the near side. How does this happen? Apparently the moon rotates on its axis in about the same time it takes to orbit the Earth; as a result, the same side is always turned toward the Earth. The side of the moon not facing Earth is the far side. (No, not the cartoon strip.) This opposite side is often called the dark side in error. Sorry, Pink Floyd; you may know music, but you are astronomically ignorant.

We Earthlings are so self-centered. We think everything revolves around us. That’s only true, though, when it comes to the moon. Yes, it actually orbits our planet. The moon makes a complete orbit around Earth every 27.3 days. During those days, our planet’s satellite’s regular phases are useful for keeping track of time.

One reason I’ll probably never go to the moon is the distance involved. From Earth to the moon is between 221,500 at the moon’s closest orbit point to 252,700 miles at its farthest orbit point. I groaned at traveling 14 hours to visit my daughter when she lived out of state, so I know I’m not up to a voyage many times longer than that.

And what’s there to do on the moon once I get there? I’ve heard it doesn’t have much atmosphere. Yes, that’s literally and figuratively. Why would I want to go to all the time, trouble, and expense to travel to the moon when there’s not much to do upon arrival? It’s just a rocky planet with no liquid water. Craters, formed from asteroids and comets colliding with the lunar surface, cover the moon like freckles on my face. Yawn! If you’ve seen one crater, you’ve probably seen them all.

If you are into cleaning, the moon is the spot for you. A permanent  dust cloud, created by small particles from comets, exists around the moon. If I want to dust and vacuum, I can save myself the trip and stay home.

Although I have a valid passport, I wouldn’t have to use it to gain access to the lunar surface. There are no entry restrictions because no nation claims ownership of any part of the moon’s surface–at least so far. Russia, China, and the United states are parties to the Outer Space Treaty, signed in 1967, which refers to the moon and all outer space as the “province of all mankind.” Guess Santa won’t be able to stake out a claim on the moon’s north pole. (Yes, the moon has a north and south pole just like Earth does.)

As a result of our country’s Apollo program, it has been confirmed the moon is not made of blue cheese. It is instead a rocky and inedible body. Why in heaven’s name would anyone link a heavenly body with tangy cheese? The explanation offered is that the moon is round and yellow like a cheese. Shadows of the moon’s craters look the holes in or texture of certain cheese. And, of course, cheese often comes in big round wheels similar to what a full moon looks like.

And why wouldn’t someone come up with the crazy idea that the moon is made of cheese? The moon is, after all, associated with insanity. Words like lunacy, lunatic, and loony come from the word “Luna,” the Latin name for the moon.

So they say, people’s behavior becomes crazy when it is a full moon. Take the concept of a werewolf for example. Things get hairy when the full moon is out. Aristotle theorized a full moon caused insanity because the brain was mostly water; thus, it was affected by the moon and its influence over the tides. Because of the moon’s gravitational attraction, the Earth’s oceans experience various tides–two high and two low in a 24 hour period.

To me what’s crazy about the moon is how its size appears to change as it rises. It looks bigger when it is close to the horizon but smaller when it is overhead. According to scientists, the moon remains the same size; the changing sizes we observe are merely a psychological effect known as the moon illusion.

And speaking of illusions, how about the man in the moon? Some claim to see the image of a human in the full moon. Personally, I’ve never been able to pick him out. Facial features are found in the dark areas of the lunar surface and the contrasting lighter areas of highlands. Think the man in the moon has had his full of blue cheese? Did too much cheese result in lunar lunacy?

Some lunacy here on Earth is moon related. Take the practice of mooning, for instance. For hundreds of years the moon has been a common metaphor for buttocks. When someone “moons” another, he displays his naked bottom either to express scorn or protest or simply for fun. Back in January of 2005 Randy Moss of the Minnesota Vikings pretended to moon Green Bay Packer fans following a touchdown he scored. I don’t know if the Cheeseheads were amused, but the NFL was not. It fined Moss $10,000 for this behavior.

Facts, figures, and science aside, one can simply enjoy the moon for its beauty in the night sky. I love to gaze up and see this lighted satellite during the dark hours. To quote the smash 1975 Starbuck song, I must say, “Moonlight feels right.”

JUST WONDER-ing:

Would you travel to the moon if given the opportunity? If you were alive back then, do you remember the “giant step for mankind” made by Neil Armstrong on the moon’s surface? Is craziness in connection with a full moon fact or folklore?