SJAA Ephemeris May 2005 | SJAA Home | Contents | Previous | Next



Dave North


First, May is the last of the Pretty Good Months for mooning in the evening. It may be the best, simply because your odds of decent weather and steady seeing are pretty good. So get out and do it.

My own viewing over the last month has been pretty grim between travels and rain etc. I'm writing on April 10, and the odds for the next week look okay, so here's hoping. In the mean time, some factoids.

Factoids are more or less brief and unrelated observations that probably have little cohesive value, won't change your life, but may nevertheless spark interest. Nothing you're likely to read in this column will be unique or even particularly pithy. There's probably nothing you couldn't find at the library or on the web.

It's the choice of blather makes any assemblage, column or other maundering worthwhile (if it in fact actually is).

So here's some choice blather. My choice.

First up is regolith. Most of the Moon's surface is covered by a fine 'groomed' dust. It's the result mostly of collisions of just about everything (meteors, dust, solar wind) with the Moon's surface. It runs about 2-8 meters thick on the Maria, and maybe about twice that on the highlands.

Astronauts commented that one of the hardest things about being on the Moon was trying to keep dust and "fines" (extremely fine dust particles) out of everything. They were generally not successful. The vast majority of obvious big features on the Moon are about 3.8 billion years old, ranging down to 3.1 billion years.

Some months ago I questioned whether Moon formation via selective accretion was reasonable. Further inspection of this idea implies it really isn't, due to volatile imbalance and some subtle radiometric differences. Or at least maybe not. However, this also led to further inspection of the Big Impact hypothesis. As far as I can tell, it doesn't add up either. So don't go listing that as a done deal. I'll stick with "I don't know" for now.

The first science fiction film, made in 1902, was "A Trip To The Moon." It was made by Georges Melles, a French (or "Liberty") person so the actual title was "Le Voyage Dans La Lune," which sounds a bit more romantic. It was a lighthearted sendup of overly conservative scientists, primarily.

Every first full Moon in October, residents near the Mekong in Thailand see colorful fireballs ascend to the sky from the river. Scientists are investigating; marsh gas has once again appeared as an explanation.

Neil Armstrong first stepped on the Moon with his left foot. Many people have tried to make something of this, but the most natural explanation is: he's a military man. Guess which foot is normally used first when marching?

The craters Messier and Messier "A" (The Crater Formerly Known As Pickering) were often thought to be the result of a single event where the impactor went underground and resurfaced, flying away to somewhere else. Probably, it was just two objects traveling together (perhaps a binary asteroid?) that hit at a glancing angle. Pickering was something of a goof, so they wiped him off the Moon and renamed his crater. I find this unconscionable, when there are far worse idiots still memorialized.

About 16 percent of the Moon's surface is Maria (flat basaltic flows in large basins. Or: the dark stuff you see when you look. Or: the Man In The Moon). The vast majority of this is all on the near side (the side we see). The likely explanation is that the far side crust is thicker. The likely explanations for that are great fun to speculate on.

Chinese see the Toad in The Moon. Others, a rabbit. If I showed you a picture of Mercury and labeled it "Far Side Of The Moon" you'd likely believe it. They look that much alike. Sun Myung Moon was crowned Moon King in a US Senate office building in March of last year. I guess that settles that.

As Artist in Residence for NASA, Laurie Anderson produced a performance titled "The End Of The Moon." Reviewers and audiences apparently loved it; in a move that may not be related, NASA discontinued the Artist in Residence program.

Generally people have ascribed the term "Blue Moon" to the second full Moon in a month, but etymologists don't agree with that idea. So what does it mean? Nobody's sure, but now and again actual Blue Moons have been sited, usually due to atmospheric disturbances. Two notable examples are following the explosion of Krakatoa and after a massive forest fire in Alberta, Canada in 1950. It may well be that "Once in a Blue Moon" actually refers to the Moon turning, well, blue! In an age of metaphor, who'd think people might actually say what they mean?

Alan Shepard hit a golf ball about 800 yards on the Moon, easily outdriving Tiger Woods' best efforts.

And one last astronaut note: for some reason, they left a gold plated 33 rpm record of "Camelot" there. Anybody know why?


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