Last night, May 5, 2012, we were treated to the sight of a “Supermoon”–a new term coined recently which simply means that the full moon lies at its perigee, or closest approach to Earth. That “closest approach” still put it 221,802 miles away last night.
People all over the world were super excited about the Supermoon, but in fact it wasn’t that that much larger than it normally is. However, as a former 8th grade science teacher whose focus and passion was the moon for a full third of the school year every year, I’ll take any excuse I can to get people to go out and look at how breathtakingly beautiful it really is.
If you want to see a REALLY Supermoon, you’ll have to wait until December 6, 2052, when the moon will make its closest approach to the planet of the 21st Century, when it will be a mere 221,469 miles away…just 133 miles closer than last night.
Facts about the Moon you might not know (but that my students could tell you):
- The shadows on the Moon are not clouds: they are called maria, and they are large “oceans” or “seas” (mare in Latin) made up of what were once massive lava fields.
- The back side of the moon looks very different. For a draggable, QuickTime image, go here.
- There are very few maria on the far side–1% on the back, as opposed to about 30% on the front.
- Scientists think the back side is far more cratered because it was exposed to incoming debris from space, while the side we see was somewhat shielded by Earth.
- We only ever see one side of the Moon, because it is locked into orbit with us so that one full rotation of the moon takes one month (see the YouTube below for an explanation).
- Last night we had a full moon; in two weeks, we’ll have a new moon.
- A new moon is when the sun is on the other side of the moon from us, and is lighting the back side. That means the side we see will be dark, so we can’t see it. That’s when it looks like there is no moon in the sky.
- It takes four weeks for the Moon to go from full, through to new, and back to full again.
- Only 12 men have ever set foot on the Moon–two men each on the six missions (Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17). We all remember what happened to Apollo 13…
- Those 12 men are Neil Armstrong (first), Buzz Aldrin, Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Eugene (Gene) Cernan, and Harrison Schmitt.
- The name of the lunar debris and dust that flies out of an impact crater is called ejecta.
- You can make really awesome craters by filling a pan with flour and some salt mixed together (I use a cup of salt and several cups of flour, making it a couple inches deep). Then dust it heavily on top with either cinnamon or cocoa powder, so that the surface is completely covered. Drop various objects into it, from varying heights, and watch the ejecta patterns and rays that result. The salt will act like small rocks, so look carefully for where the ejecta falls by looking for the salt grains. Note: this works really well on black lab tables!
As promised: a YouTube demonstration of why we only ever see one side of the Moon: