Top Ten Interesting and Fun Facts About the Moon
The Moon in Myths and Stories
In ancient times, the Moon was thought to shine by its own light.
We know now that it only reflects the light of the Sun.
But before we come to look at the science of the Moon, let's just take a trip back in time to find out what our ancestors made of the mysteries of the Moon in their myths, legends and stories...
We've all heard the idea still told to children today that there is a 'Man in the Moon'...
Moon Fact 1
The Moon was probably created by a collision between the forming Earth and a piece of astral debris. This also accounts for its mixed composition of Earth-like rocks and alien rocks.
"The man in the moon came down too soon
and asked his way to Norwich.
He went by the south and burned his mouth
while supping cold pease porridge."
... or even that the Moon is made of cheese!
In ancient times, however, the Moon was most frequently thought of as a god or more often, a goddess.
The Sun and the Moon were often thought to be divine beings; one masculine, one feminine; one ruling the day, the other the night.
Lunar Goddess Image
Moon Myths of the World
In Alaska, the myths of the Inuit people talk of the Moon as a wicked god named Malina, the brother of the Sun. In their mythology the Sun is seen as a goddess called Annigan.
Malina is cruel and chases his sister across the sky. But he spends all his time doing that and forgets to eat - so as the month wears on he gets thinner and thinner until he vanishes away altogether!
Watch the video below to learn a Korean myth about the creation of the Sun and the Moon. Do any elements in this story remind you of stories that you know from closer to home?
Korean Moon Myth
Moon Fact 2
Because of the way the Moon turns on its axis and orbits the Earth, we can only ever see one side of it! That is the side illuminated by the Sun. We do know what the 'dark side' of the Moon looks like, however, as it has been photographed from space.
In some Native American myths and stories, it is said that the Sun and the Moon are husband and wife. But the Sun is hungry and cruel and wants to eat their children, the stars. So, when he wakes in the morning, all the star-children run away. It is only at night, while he is sleeping, that the Moon can come out and play with her children.
But the Moon has not only inspired Native American stories. Here is a beautiful piece of Native American music played on the traditional wooden flute.
Native American Moon Song
The Sun and the Moon are thought of as man and wife in the Nigerian mythology from Africa.
The stories tell how they once lived on Earth among the people, but there came a great flood and they escaped into the sky, where they remain to this day.
Nigerian Moon Mask
In Kenya, also in Africa, the myths tell how the Sun and the Moon were both brothers, but they were always fighting and squabbling with each other.
One day, during one of their fights, the Moon fell into a swamp. Covered in mud, his light was dimmed.
Eventually God became so fed up with their constant battles that he separated them, putting one of them in the day and the other in the night.
Moon Fact 3
The Romans called their Moon Goddess, 'Luna' and we still use this term when we refer to things to do with the Moon.
Think of 'the lunar landings' or the 'lunar orbit' or the 'lunar calendar.'
Because of the Moon's association with magic and madness, we still sometimes talk of 'lunatics' to describe people whose behavior is irrational - although it is no longer a term acceptable to describe someone with a genuine psychiatric illness.
Moon Myths of the Ancient Greeks
According to the mythology of the Ancient Greeks, the Moon Goddess was Artemis, the sister of Apollo, the Sun God.
To the Greeks, the Moon was intimately associated with darkness, dreams, mysteries and magic. They actually had more than one Moon Goddess.
The Goddess of the 'dark of the moon' was a slightly more terrifying figure, Hecate, Queen of the Underworld and all things spooky!
Moon Mysteries Investigated
Galileo, Telescopes and the Moon
The Moon remained a mystery for most of human history.
It was only in the sixteenth century, with the invention of Galileo's telescope, that the Moon could be properly observed for the first time.
Galileo spent many months observing the Moon and recording his observations. He was the first to realize that the Moon was a solid satellite of the Earth, with its own valleys and mountains.
Apollo Moon Landing
His discovery paved the way to a complete revision of how the Earth and humanity fits into the scheme of the Universe as a whole. It was, in many ways, the beginning of secular science.
The Moon was no longer a goddess to be worshipped or a 'divine sphere' to be wondered at, but an astronomical object that could be studied. It would be a mere three hundred sixty years later, in 1969, that the Apollo spacecraft landed the first humans on the Moon.
What do you think Galileo would have made of that?
Portrait of Galileo Galilei
Moon Fact 4
Earth has actually more than one Moon! It's true. But the other one is so small (just three miles across) and was discovered so recently, in 1999, that not many people know about it. It's called Cruithne - look it up!
The Science of the Moon
Now we've looked at the myths and legends that our ancestors created about the Moon and arrived at Galileo, the first lunar scientist, let's take a look at what we know about the Moon today.
Thanks to mathematicians, astronomers, chemists, geologists, cosmologists, astrophysicists and, of course, astronauts - science has discovered a great deal about the Moon.
So What is the Moon?
You've probably heard of 'satellites' that orbit the Earth. Most of them are human made and shot up into space with rockets. You might think of radio satellites that beam your TV pictures around the world, or space exploration satellites that carry powerful telescopes.
Moon Fact 5
Because the Moon's atmosphere is so thin, there is no wind or rain. That's why the flag that we put on the Moon when we landed there for the first time in 1969, had to have a horizontal pole inserted in the top or it would just have hung down!
Well, the Moon is the Earth's only natural satellite.
A 'satellite' is simply any physical body that travels around another one. Which is why our space stations and transmitters and so on are also called satellites - that's what they do!
How Was the Moon Formed?
Scientists have a lot of evidence that suggests the Moon probably first formed about the same time as the Earth.
Moon Fact 6
The ocean tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the Moon on the Earth's surface. Not much else can move but the seas are fluid. They stay on Earth, however, because the Earth's own gravitational pull is stronger. Phew!
4.3 billion years ago, while the Earth was still in the process of forming from the swirling particles left over by an exploding star, it collided with another 'heavenly body' about the size of the planet Mars.
This collision caused a scattering of looser Earth material to spin off into space. It was caught in the Earth's gravitational field and swirled into terrestrial orbit, slowly condensing by its own gravity to become the Moon.
So now you know. Or maybe not. Science is, after all, a work-in-progress.
The fact is that scientists have a lot of evidence for this, but not quite enough to be certain. Although, some of the problems with understanding just how it all happened are getting clearer, as the following video explains:
Scientists Get Closer to Understanding How the Moon was Formed
The Phases of the Moon
We often talk about the Moon getting bigger and smaller during the month. This phenomenon is called 'the phases of the Moon'. Of course, the Moon isn't really getting bigger and smaller at all. It just seems that way from Earth.
So, what are the phases of the Moon?
The Moon's Phases
Phases of the Moon Explained
Now, you remember that the Moon doesn't shine with its own light? It reflects the light of the Sun.
That means that the portion of the lunar surface that we can see depends on the relative positions of the Earth and the Moon to the Sun.
So, as the Earth (orbiting the Sun) and the Moon (orbiting the Earth) get closer to alignment, less and less of the lit-up side of the Moon is visible.
Moon Fact 7
It takes the Moon 27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes, 11.6 seconds, to orbit the Earth once.
Little by little during the month, more shadow is cast over the Moon until, when the Sun, Earth and Moon are completely lined up with the Moon between the Sun and the Earth, it blocks the sunlight altogether and the Moon seems to disappear!
Then, as we pass over the other side, the lit-up side gets bigger and bigger, until we are aligned again but this time with the Earth in-between the Sun and the Moon. Then we have the Full Moon.
Still not quite sure how this works? Or do you just prefer to see a picture? Watch this video animation which explains all the phases of the Moon very nicely:
Why Does the Moon Change Shape?
The Moon orbits the earth because of the Earth's gravity. But it doesn't go round us in a perfect circle. It travels along an orbit which is more or less egg-shaped. We say that it follows an elliptical orbit.
Moon Fact 8
The Moon is approximately 250,000 miles away from the Earth. Average walking speed is 3 miles per hour. How long would it take you to walk to the Moon?
The Moon also spins on its own axis, just as the Earth does. The time it takes to make one full turn on its axis is the same as it takes to orbit the Earth once. What that means, is that from Earth, we can only ever see one side of the Moon!
The other side, which we cannot see from our home planet, is known as the 'dark side of the Moon'.
The Moon and the Tides
Have you ever spent any time by the sea? Have you ever wondered why it is that the ocean has tides and how the tides go in and out?
Moon Fact 9
The surface of the Moon is pitted with craters. These were formed by collisions with space rocks and asteroids over 4 billion years ago. They remain almost perfectly formed because the Moon has virtually no geological activity and no weather, either!
The answer lies in the effect of the Moon's gravity on the surface waters of the Earth.
Sounds amazing? Well, yes, it is. Let's have a look at this phenomenon and see if we can understand it.
How Does the Moon Effect the Tides?
Most coastal waters experience two daily tides known as high tide (when the water level is at its maximum) and low tide (when the water level is at its minimum).
Moon Fact 10
In 2009, scientists discovered that there is some frozen water on the Moon. However, there are no signs of life having evolved there.
But how does the Moon exert its influence on the movement of water? How does the Moon effect the tides?
Well, I'm going to let the guys from Test Tube (which is a handy little channel for bite-size explanations of complicated science, if you're interested) give you the information you need. Watch:
The Tides Explained
The Eagle Has Landed!
That brings us to near the end of our moonwalk, our look at the top ten most interesting and fun facts about the Moon.
Did you learn something new here today?
But before you go, take a moment to watch this iconic bit of film of the very first time humans actually set foot on that extraordinary satellite that has fascinated humankind since we first looked up to night sky...
And then, maybe you'd like to answer the Moon poll, too. It's great to know what you think!
Now, watch the video below:
The First Men on the Moon
One Question Quiz
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© 2014 Amanda Littlejohn