Almost 50 years ago, we first set foot on the Moon. With the anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission coming up in July, we thought it was a good time to ponder some of the most surprising facts about the Moon.
The Moon Is Not Round
Let’s start with a biggie: The Moon is actually shaped more like an egg than a ball. Crazy, right? NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter proved that the satellite is “ovoid” with the bottom end of the egg pointed toward the Earth.
It’s not quite as pronounced as a chicken egg, but the Moon isn’t a perfect sphere, either.
It’s Drifting Away
Aww, now this is sad. The Moon is very slowly moving away from the Earth. It gets just under 4 centimeters further away each year. While that distance seems hardly significant, eventually it adds up!
Astronomers predict that this drift will continue for another 50 billion years, lengthening the orbit of the Moon by about 20 days.
The Earth Has Phases from the Moon’s Point of View
When viewed from the Moon, the Earth seems to go through similar phases–full, quarter, gibbous, and so on. The phases are reversed, so if it’s a full Moon on earth, it’s a new Earth on the Moon.
The Earth is also much, much brighter in the Lunar sky, anywhere from 50-100 times the illumination of the Moon on Earth. Mind = blown!
The Moon orbits the Earth in synchronous rotation, meaning that the same side is always facing us. That lead to the idea of the “dark side of the moon.” However, the Moon gets the same amount of light on both sides. We just never see the other one.
Only 12 People Have Walked on the Moon
Of course we all know that Neil Armstrong was the first man to walk on the Moon. But did you know that Gene Cernan, of the Apollo 17 mission, was the last man to walk there? Earth hasn’t sent anyone else to explore the Moon in person since 1972.
Also, every single one of the astronauts who have walked on the Moon were white, American, and male. Let’s get some diversity up there, right?
Ours Is the Biggest–Sort Of
Our Moon may not be the largest in the solar system–that would be Jupiter’s Ganymede. But it is the biggest satellite relative to its planet. It also just happens to be the exact right size to give us eclipses.
Pluto used to hold the record for moon-to-planet ratio, but since it was downgraded to a dwarf planet, it no longer counts. The moon Charon is almost the same size as Pluto!
No One Owns the Moon
During the space race of the 1960s, the United States and the Soviet Union were desperate to be first on the Moon. Although the Soviets technically got there first, the US was the first country to send astronauts to walk on the Moon.
Before that happened, both nations signed the Outer Space Treaty in 1967. The treaty ensured that the Moon would be considered the property of the world as a whole, and that any discoveries there would belong to everyone.