I got to wondering about the moon the other day, and the more I wondered, the more questions I had.
For example, why hadn’t I ever seen a smiley-faced moon in Alaska? Why is our crescent moon always either a “C” or a “C” facing the wrong way? Aren’t we entitled to other views of this commonly owned resource, the moon? Is it possible to order a moon-view upgrade?
While investigating this insult, I discovered some things that I must’ve forgotten, some things I’d never known, and some things that left me wondering which way was up.
I already knew that moonlight was just reflected sunlight, and that the sun was “on” 24/7. I also knew that both Earth and the moon spin on on their own axes, and that the moon revolves around Earth while Earth revolves around the sun.
Something I’d forgotten was that the moon always shows us the same face, it’s so-called near side. We didn’t know what was on the moon’s far side until 1959, when an unmanned Russian spacecraft transmitted photos of it back to Earth.
Other than Pink Floyd’s famous rock album, there is no dark side of the moon, at least not one that’s permanently dark. The so-called dark side is lit up just as much as the near side. We just aren’t allowed to see it.
I learned that the reason we can see only one side of the moon is because it takes just as long to rotate around its own axis as it takes to revolve around Earth — just under four weeks. This effect is called “synchronous rotation,” if you’re still reading this, and if you’re wondering.
If you think a crescent moon is caused by Earth’s shadow, think again. That dark area is the moon’s own shadow, not Earth’s. The only time Earth’s shadow falls on the moon is at full moon during a lunar eclipse. Night on Earth is the same deal: The night part is Earth’s shadow.
In my studies, I was reminded that the moon, the sun and all the other stars and planets always rise in the east and set in the west because Earth is constantly spinning. I also recalled that Earth and the moon travel in different elliptical orbits, all of which makes me dizzy, just thinking about it.
As to why we don’t see smiley-faced moons in Alaska, the part of the moon that’s lit up by the sun depends upon where the moon happens to be in space at any given moment. The way a crescent moon appears to an observer on Earth depends on the latitude of the observer. I learned that the closer you are to the Equator, the more a crescent moon resembles a smiley face.
In an attempt to verify my discovery, I Googled and ogled hundreds of moon photos. Photos shot in India, Brazil, Nicaragua, Indonesia and the Philippines — all countries located near the equator — showed smiley-faced moons. Photos shot in Texas and Florida — farther from the Equator — showed smiley faces, but the smiles were smirky, off to one side.
Trouble is, I’m skeptical about all of these smiley-faced crescent moon photos. The photographers could’ve been holding their cameras at an angle. Now I’ll have to go on some expeditions to verify that crescent moons are truly smiley faced when seen from the Equator.
I’m thinking Christmas Island, the coral atoll that lies just north of the Equator, famous for its bonefishing flats. Of course, I’d have to hang out in Hawaii for a few days to get acclimated to the sun, but it would be worth the sacrifice. Whatever it takes to learn the Truth and convey it to my readers.
Les Palmer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.