18 March 2008

How the Moon Works?

From anyplace on Earth, the clearest thing in the night sky is usually the moon, Earth's only natural satellite and the nearest celestial object (240,250 miles or 384,400 km away). Ancient cultures revered the moon. It represented gods and goddesses in various mythologies -- the ancient Greeks called it "Artemis" and "Selene," while the Romans referred to it as "Luna."

Looking at the full moon, you can clearly see dark areas (maria) and light ones (terrae).

Because the moon is so close to the Earth relative to other celestial objects, it's the only one to which humans have traveled and set foot upon. In the 1960s, the United States and Russia were involved in a massive "space race" to land men on the moon. Both countries sent unmanned probes to orbit the moon, photograph it and land on the surface. In July 1969, American astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin became the first humans to walk on the moon. During six lunar landing missions from 1969 to 1972, a total of 12 American astronauts explored the lunar surface. They made observations, took ­photographs, set up scientific instruments and brought back 842 pounds (382 kilograms) of moon rocks and dust samples. What did we learn about the moon from these historic journeys?

What's on the surface of the MOON?

As we mentioned, the first thing that you'll notice when you look at the moon's surface are the dark and light areas. The dark areas are called maria. There are several prominent maria.

  • Mare Tranquilitatis (Sea of Tranquility): where the first astronauts landed
  • Mare Imbrium (Sea of Showers): the largest mare (700 miles or 1100 kilometers in diameter)
  • Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity)
  • Mare Nubium (Sea of Clouds)
  • Mare Nectaris (Sea of Nectar)
  • Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms)

The maria cover only 15 percent of the lunar surface.

Craters on the far side of the moon

Astronauts placed other scientific packages on the moon to collect data:

  • Seismometers didn't detect any moonquakes or other indications of plate tectonic activity (movements in the moon's crust)
  • Magnetometers in orbiting spacecraft and probes didn't detect a significant magnetic field around the moon, which indicates that the moon doesn't have a substantial iron core or molten iron core like the Earth does.

Giant Impactor Hypothesis

In the mid-1970s, scientists proposed a new idea called the Giant Impactor (or Ejected Ring) hypothesis. According to this hypothesis, about 4.45 billion years ago, while the Earth was still forming, a large object (about the size of Mars) hit the Earth at an angle. The impact threw debris into space from the Earth's mantle region and overlying crust. The impactor itself melted and merged with the Earth's interior, and the hot debris coalesced to form the moon.

According to the Giant Impact hypothesis, about 4.45 billion years ago a Mars-size body slammed into the young Earth. It melted and merged into the core of the Earth, and the resulting debris coalesced to form the moon.

The Giant Impactor hypothesis explains why the moon rocks have a composition similar to the Earth's mantle, why the moon has no iron core (because the iron in the Earth's core and impactor's core remained on Earth), and why moon rocks seem to have been baked and have no volatile compounds. Computer simulations have shown that this hypothesis is feasible.

Geological History of MOON

Moon Phases

Every night, the moon shows a different face in the night sky. On some nights we can see its entire face, sometimes it's partial, and on others it isn't visible at all. These phases of the moon aren't random -- they change throughout the month in a regular and predictable way.

As the moon travels in its 29-day orbit, its position changes daily. Sometimes it's between the Earth and the sun and sometimes it's behind us. So a different section of the moon's face is lit up by the sun, causing it to show different phases.

Over the billions of years of the moon's existence, it has moved farther away from the Earth, and its rate of rotation has also slowed. The moon is tidally locked with the Earth, which means that the Earth's gravity "drags" the moon to rotate on its axis. This is why the moon rotates only once per month and why the same side of the moon always faces the Earth.


Every day, the Earth experiences tides, or changes in the level of its oceans. They're caused by the pull of the moon's gravity. There are two high tides and two low tides every day, each lasting about six hours.

The moon's gravitational force pulls on water in the oceans and stretches the water out to form tidal bulges in the ocean on the sides of the planet that are in line with the moon. The moon pulls water on the side nearest it, which causes a bulge toward the moon. The moon pulls on the Earth slightly, which drags the Earth away from the water on the opposite side, making another tidal bulge there. So, the areas of the Earth under the bulge experience high tide, while the areas on the thin sides have low tide. As the Earth rotates underneath the elongated bulges, this creates high and low tides about 12 hours apart.

The moon also stabilizes the Earth's rotation. As the Earth spins on its axis, it wobbles. The moon's gravitational effect limits the wobble to a small degree. If we had no moon, the Earth might move almost 90 degrees off its axis, with the same motion that a spinning top has as it slows down.

Return to the MOON

Since 1972, no one has set foot on the moon. However, there is a renewed effort for a lunar return. Why? In 1994, the orbiting Clementine probe detected radio reflections from shadowed craters at the moon's South Pole. The reflections were consistent with the presence of ice. Later, the orbiting Lunar Prospector probe detected hydrogen-rich signals form the same area, possibly hydrogen from ice.

Where could water on the moon have come from? It was probably carried to the moon by the comets, asteroids and meteors that have impacted the moon over its long history. Water was never detected by the Apollo astronauts because they didn't explore that region of the moon. If there is indeed water on the moon, it could be used to support a lunar base. The water could be split by electrolysis into hydrogen and oxygen -- the oxygen could be used to support life and both gases could be used for rocket fuel. So, a lunar base could be a staging point for future exploration of the solar system (Mars and beyond). Plus, because of the moon's lower gravity, it is cheaper and easier to lift a rocket off of its surface than from Earth.

President George W. Bush directed NASA to make plans for a return trip to the moon for resumed exploration and to possibly establish a lunar base for research and commercial applications (mining, manufacturing, tourism). The Orion Crew Exploration Vehicle is part of that effort. Besides the United States, other countries, including Japan and China, are planning to travel to the moon and researching how to build a lunar base using materials from the lunar surface. Various plans call for returning to the moon and establishing possible bases sometime between 2015 and 2035.

For more interesting info visit:

NASA solar system exploration

See this very first moon landing of apollo 11 mission in 1969 :-


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