Our beautiful moon is the brightest heavenly body in our night sky. This milky orb has long been a thing of lore, shrouded in shadows and legends.With its mysterious phases and the effects its movements have on the Earth it has fueled many myths and lore the world over. It has also been believed for thousands of years the world over that the moon has mysterious and uncanny power over human affairs and behavior. It was and still is associated with goddesses, fertility, menstruation and the female sex because it’s monthly phases are so closely related to a woman’s menstrual cycle. Although it is the celestial body closest to us, we still don’t know all there is to know about the moon. Does the moon really have an affect on us? Why don’t we ever see the dark side of the moon? What are the strange things that have given rise to its mysteries?
The moon was active with violent volcanic activity billions of years ago. Some of those effects can still be seen today such as certain light patches and dark areas on its surface. The light areas on the moon are called highlands. The dark areas are lava beds called “maria”. Maria is Latin for sea and these seas once flowed with lava, but now something else may have resulted from this ancient activity. Many astronomers have reported seeing glowing or flashing lights from certain parts of the moon’s surface. These have been sighted on lunar soil, craters and peaks. These luminescent flashes of light are often seen near the dark side of the moon. For ages people have reported these lights. Sightings go back as early as 557 A.D. Some people have attributed this to supernatural or extra-terrestrial phenomena. Scientists call this phenomenon LTP – Lunar Transient Phenomenon. LTP can last from a few seconds to a few hours and there are many explanations as to where they come from. Some think that they may be caused by fireballs; meteorites hitting the surface. Some scientists think that the fluctuations in the Earth’s atmosphere make it appear that there is a light phenomenon on the moon when watching from the Earth. Other scientists think that the moon may still be experiencing some type of underground volcanic activity, but none of these ideas seem possible under close scrutiny, nor have they been observed. This is especially so since these lights have been observed by astronauts in orbit around the moon. They saw no meteor shower activity in connection with this phenomena, nor saw any evidence of underground volcanic activity. The best answer is that this phenomenon is caused by residual gases seeping up from beneath the moon’s surface. These gases are then colored by the sun’s rays. Really though, no one knows for sure what causes LTP. Through all of our advances in astronomy, observations through high powered telescopes and even after traveling to the moon itself, they remain an enigma.
That isn’t all. The moon is said to have an effect on human behavior. It is interesting to note that the moon is associated with all things mysterious to Man: night, darkness, witchcraft, blood, madness, superstition, emotionality and Woman. The word “moon” itself is derived from the Latin word “luna” which means lunacy or madness. A legend says that people who sleep with moonlight on their face will go mad! Like the lunar pull has an effect on ocean tides, many wonder if it affects human emotions? People have come to associate certain behaviors from humans and animals with phases of the moon. Speaking of emotionality, some in the medical and law enforcement communities see a correlation between phases of the moon and changes in behavior and physiology. Some in law enforcement say crime rates increases during a full moon phase. The opinion in the scientific community is that this is merely a perception due to suggestion and that there is no actual scientific evidence, only anecdotal evidence. Still, anecdotal evidence by experts and professionals should not be easily dismissed. There really may be something to it.
A mystery that can be explained scientifically is why the moon seems so large on the horizon at some times and small at other times when it is high in the sky. This effect plays tricks on the eye and it is called the Ponzo Effect. What this means is that sometimes our minds will determine the size of an object based on its background. In our minds we see the sky as a flat dome. It appears closer over our heads than near the horizon. The moon is beyond the sky and very far away, however, we think of the moon as a flat disc pasted on the dome of the sky. This is where the Ponzo Effect comes in. We reach the conclusion that because the moon is near the horizon it must be far away but since its size doesn’t seem to decrease, it must be much larger than it is when it is overhead. Thus, it looks huge at times when on the horizon and rather small when it is high in the sky.
For so small a satellite, it has great influence on life on Earth in ways that we can measure scientifically, even without examining its more enigmatic properties. The facts about the moon are also just as fascinating as its legends. Without the moon, the Earth would spin much faster, would not remain stable on its axis and Earth’s days would be very short, negatively affecting life on Earth. Our dependence on it is a well known fact. It is also a well known fact that the moon pulls on the ocean tides and it creates a big tidal bulge on both sides of the Earth; it is also true that the Earth’s gravity pulls on the moon. When the moon was first formed, it was made of molten rock and during this time the Earth had a very similar influence on the moon’s fiery oceans as it has on our watery ones today. The ocean tides on Earth were then 1000 times greater than they are today. Imagine what that might have looked like! The moon stabilizes the Earth on its axis and therefore helps keep our climate stable. Life on earth depends on this relationship between the two. It is also believed that billions of years ago the moon was much closer to us and over the ages it is slowly moving away from us.
There are so many mysteries regarding our moon. Let’s look at one more – why is it that we only see one side of the moon? Over billions of years the moon’s spinning rotation has slowed down considerably. The Earth’s gravity has slowed down the Moon’s rotation until it became gravitationally locked to the Earth. Once this happened, the moon took as long to rotate on its axis as it did to make an orbit around Earth; and so it still orbits and rotates like this today. Astronomers call this synchronous rotation. Because of this, we see the same side of the moon all of the time.
The moon is beautiful and in many respects remains as mysterious to us as it did to ancient people. Some if its mysteries have been explained but there are many that still remain hidden. Perhaps in the future we can travel there and chart its surface and call it home where we can learn much more about it. Even so, there is so much that we still don’t understand about the Earth, let alone the moon! So we may keep on wondering about the moon’s nocturnal beauty and mystery as we look up in the night sky.