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The Mystique of the Moon

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#1 Michael Rapp

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 02:47 PM

I've always felt that those who were in astronomy during the 1960s often had a better appreciation for the Moon than I do, having grown up in the 80s and 90s. (I didn't start into astronomy seriously until my freshman year in high school, 1991.)

Those in the astronomy clubs to which I've belonged who are older than me just seem to enjoy the Moon so much more. It may be as simple that the Moon just doesn't capture my interest, but I often think that I've missed out.

For most of my astronomy life, the Moon was an explored world. We sent probes and people and, from my point of view, we understand the Moon. It is no longer a mystery. It is, to a first approximation, a solved problem.

Sure, there is sizeable, even vibrant, research still going on with the Moon. (For example, NASA's Lunar and Planetary Institute is essentially right around the corner from me.) But their research is on the sub-specialized scale and is highly technical, and somewhat inaccessible and esoteric to the amateur.

A week or so ago I came across a statement made by Sir Patrick Moore in the first decade of this century. He was discussing deep sky objects, but in trying to place his expertise in the proper light, added, "The Moon is my subject."

This struck me as very interesting. How is it that the Moon could capture anyone's complete astronomical interest? I wanted to understand, if not experience, that feeling for myself. A post here lead me to Patrick's 1953 book, Guide to the Moon. In this book his enthusiasm and zeal is very present. Indeed, it's inspired me to explore the Moon tonight if it stays clear!

However, there is a theme that I perceive in the book. In the 1950s, the Moon still held some mystique on the large scale. There were still things to be figured out with which a person not trained in geology could identify. Consider this interesting quote from page 100:

"...well-defined mists have been seen on the moon from time to time. They are very slight, and in no way comparable to terrestrial fogs--they certainly do not consist of water vapour--but they appear occasionally, and their reality cannot be questioned."

While that last clause is fascinating in its own right, the whole of the quote speaks to the notion that in the 1950s there were dynamic and unpredictable effects on the Moon. I enjoy looking at Jupiter and Mars because they have that dynamic aspect; if I perceived the Moon to have that same quality, I most assuredly would have more enthusiasm for viewing it!

At the risk of sounding like I can't figure out the obvious, perhaps this mystique or mystery is what is hampering my consideration of the Moon. Thankfully, I don't think all is lost. Several months ago I read Sheehan and Dobbins' Epic Moon. I found myself considering the Moon in a different light. Rather than looking at it and feeling, "okay, that's really pretty, but so what?", I've been imagining myself as someone from the 17th or 18th century looking at the Moon, considering what I see and wondering how I would interpret it without all the knowledge of the latter half of the 20th century.

It's great fun on a pleasant night.

#2 nirvanix

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 03:11 PM

Hey Michael, great thoughts. Actually for me recently the moon has become much more of a mystery:

As far back as 1962, NASA scientist Dr. Gordon MacDonald stated, “If the astronomical data are reduced, it is found that the data require that the interior of the Moon be less dense than the outer parts. Indeed, it would seem that the Moon is more like a hollow than a homogeneous sphere.”

Dr. Robert Jastrow, first chairman of NASA’s Lunar Exploration Committee, called the moon “the Rosetta Stone of the planets”.

Two Russian scientists, Mikhail Vasin and Alexander Shcherbakov, have come up with the theory that the moon is a huge, hollowed-out planetoid that was sent into orbit around our world billions of years ago. They believe that the moon was hollowed out artificially, which means that it was done by some intelligence.

Now before you laugh, if you consider the density, diameter, and composition of the moon, the hollow core thing makes sense. The crust of the moon has a lot of titanium in it which is interesting. :question:

If you would like to watch an amusing movie based around the moon I recommend "Iron Sky".

#3 dscarpa

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 03:47 PM

Think of the huge part of astro viewing that would be missing if the Earth traveled alone. If the Moon were on it's own it would be a planet which is amazing to me. Ditto for the ebb and flow of light and viewing with very good to excellent seeing. Conditions were good last night with Jupiter and the Moon making a great combo with my WO ZS-110! Tonight it's the IM715's turn! David

#4 Astrojensen

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 04:17 PM

Fascinating little article!

I've been imagining myself as someone from the 17th or 18th century looking at the Moon, considering what I see and wondering how I would interpret it without all the knowledge of the latter half of the 20th century.


I've been interested in astronomy all my life, but I knew noone who shared my interest or had a telescope. This was in pre-internet days (I'm 37, so technically that's not true, but the internet only became available for the common person in the late 90'ies. We got it in 2000), so the only available source of knowledge was the library and they hadn't much, certainly not any modern material. This resulted in me growing up as an astronomer on a stable diet of books from mostly the 1950'ies, but frequently older. Only a handful were newer. All of the old books were enthusiastic about the Moon, especially the older ones. I grew fascinated about it as well, no doubt helped by the fact that it was the only object on which I could resolve some recognizable details discussed in the books, as the only instrument I had was a 10x50 binocular. Later on, I got a 12-40x40 spotting scope and I'll never forget the first view of the Moon. Suddenly, the craters were huge and so easily visible! The scope had poor optics, but at least I could see the Moon in detail! Well, sort of.

Later on, I got a 60mm refractor with really good optics, and now I began to really observe the Moon like never before. I had also begun to find older articles from the 1940'ies about the various formations and obviously this shaped my view of them and my observations. I suspect I see the Moon more with the eye of a 19th century observer than I do as a 21st century observer with internet access. I often recall decades-old descriptions and articles, when I observe something on the Moon.

Perhaps fittingly, I often use a telescope given to me by the same man who wrote most of the old articles about the Moon I read in my childhood. A century-old Zeiss refractor, made back in a time when the Moon was still mysterious and considered a shining pearl of the night skies. I treasure that scope above anything else I own, but I don't put it away in a safe, but still use it for what it was meant to do: Look at the Moon.


Clear skies!
Thomas, Denmark

#5 kcb

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 05:16 PM

hi,
i guess for me who has been observing for many decades the moon was my first astronomical object with an 80mm f/12 refractor ,cardboard tube telescope kit,at age 9,there were no computers so the moon was entertainment in the outdoors that stayed in my mind as a huge wow factor,since then i have always had a fondness for the moon,as i am getting older i am realising more that the moon and mars are the only astronomical objects that show solid surface details,and you could actually walk on them,kinda makes them special to me,and you cant help but appreciate the ancient astronomers who studied the solid surface of the moon and mars,clear skies,k.c

#6 A6Q6

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 06:45 PM

Michael said: "imagining myself as someone from the 17th or 18th century looking at the Moon, considering what I see and wondering how I would interpret it without all the knowledge of the latter half of the 20th century." That's pretty much how I also also keep up my interest in lunar observing. I do take some pictures now and then, but I feel it gets in the way of the joy of observing. :grin:

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#7 nirvanix

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 07:21 PM

hi,
i guess for me who has been observing for many decades the moon was my first astronomical object with an 80mm f/12 refractor ,cardboard tube telescope kit,at age 9,there were no computers so the moon was entertainment in the outdoors that stayed in my mind as a huge wow factor,since then i have always had a fondness for the moon,as i am getting older i am realising more that the moon and mars are the only astronomical objects that show solid surface details,and you could actually walk on them,kinda makes them special to me,and you cant help but appreciate the ancient astronomers who studied the solid surface of the moon and mars,clear skies,k.c


Yeh, good points Kevin. Walking on the surface - I hope to be able to walk on moon/mars someday. I delivered papers when I was a kid and saved up for a 40mm telescope with about 25x power. Moon was first target, Saturn second. I could see the craters on the moon, but Saturn looked like a ball with two cup handles on it - no detail.

#8 Rick Woods

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 11:00 PM

The Moon was a lot more exciting during the Apollo era for obvious reasons; and before that, because we knew Apollo (or something like it) was coming soon.
Prior to that, the Moon was a mysterious alien world where anything could be happening. Heck, we didn't even know what the back side looked like!

So, yeah; back then, it was like getting a look at a vast, unexplored wilderness; now it's more like looking at a park. Still neat and interesting, but not as alluring.

#9 Asbytec

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Posted 11 January 2014 - 11:55 PM

What an excellent write up, Michael, followed by some equally interesting comments.

I kind of feel the same way about the moon, but Jupiter takes all my attention. Still, for so many decades viewing deep sky I have always shunned the moon as a nuisance. God's street light, it was affectionately (not) called.

But, once you turn a scope and a critical eye to it, it's an amazing place. I have missed so much, too, in the decades past. And that includes the beauty of doubles and the allure of the planets. In retirement, I feel fortunate to explore these neglected chapters of our hobby of viewing the heavens and no longer shun the moon.

#10 brianb11213

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 04:29 AM

back then, it was like getting a look at a vast, unexplored wilderness; now it's more like looking at a park. Still neat and interesting, but not as alluring.

Not much has changed ... we have explored only a tiny fraction of the surface with manned or robotic landers; there are still huge tracts of the moon which we may have imaged in minute detail but about which we have had no direct contact.

The park, on the other hand: we know that the whole area is being managed: we, our dogs and/or other wildlife have roamed & crapped all over it & the only real surprise is the nasty one of accidentally discovering an incidence of the latter.

#11 Michael Rapp

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 12:42 PM

It does seem that perceived dynamism is key to a prolonged study of a single object. I've continued to read Patrick Moore's 1953 book Guide to the Moon. His chapter on Changes on the Moon is absolutely fascinating.

He paints the Moon as anything other than a dead world. For example, Moore clearly asserts that the crater Linne did indeed disappear! His description borders on poetic: "Where the old deep crater had stood, all that remained was a small whitish patch. It was a startling discovery, equivalent to the complete disappearance of a town such as Nottingham from the map of England (p. 128)"

Indeed: "Some people have flatly denied that any change has taken place. Quite frankly, this is simply flying in the face of all the evidence." Moore himself confirms that Linne is "now a dome, with a minute, deep central craterlet; this was confirmed by the writer in 1953 (p. 128)."

I can only imagine myself being an amateur astronomer in the 1950s, reading Moore's book. Craters vanishing without warning on the Moon? I'd have my telescope trained on the Moon every clear night!

A very different time in terms of our understanding.

#12 David Knisely

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 02:04 PM

Hi there Michael. You posted:

It does seem that perceived dynamism is key to a prolonged study of a single object. I've continued to read Patrick Moore's 1953 book Guide to the Moon. His chapter on Changes on the Moon is absolutely fascinating.

He paints the Moon as anything other than a dead world. For example, Moore clearly asserts that the crater Linne did indeed disappear! His description borders on poetic: "Where the old deep crater had stood, all that remained was a small whitish patch. It was a startling discovery, equivalent to the complete disappearance of a town such as Nottingham from the map of England (p. 128)"

Indeed: "Some people have flatly denied that any change has taken place. Quite frankly, this is simply flying in the face of all the evidence." Moore himself confirms that Linne is "now a dome, with a minute, deep central craterlet; this was confirmed by the writer in 1953 (p. 128)."


Moore was stuck in the "lunar volcanism" theory for crater formation, so it is no wonder he latched-on to the Linne "controversy" as evidence to support it. When I first read him in the 1960's, I was disappointed in this, since the lunar probes were at the time showing more evidence of impact being the primary cause of lunar craters. Indeed, one Lunar Orbiter shot of Linne showed a very well defined 2.4 km wide impact crater with an ejecta blanket and no sign that there was anything else ever there (no "dome with a pit"). However, Moore held onto the volcanism theory almost until after the early Apollo missions brought back the best hard evidence on impacts. There are changes on the moon, but they are at a scale far smaller than Moore was able to observe. Still, the moon is always fun to observe even if it doesn't seem to change much from year to year. Clear skies to you.

#13 Hazel

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 04:54 PM

The periodic blue glow of Aristarchus I would say is a dynamic event and for which we still have no solid explanation. There were many post-Apollo studies which assessed and discussed possible causes of the glow such as mineral composition and outgassing and to my knowledge there is still no definitive answer even today. I also believe the TLP matter is not resolved. Many say there cannot be geologic causes of TLP. My opinion is that despite our best instrumentation and measurement (remotely and in situ with Apollo) no one knows for certain since we have not explored, drilled and excavated into the moon at any great depth. Who knows for sure that there are truly no dynamic geologic processes on or in the moon -- despite lack of strong recent evidence for TLP, I will keep looking.

#14 Rick Woods

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Posted 12 January 2014 - 08:07 PM

Hazel,
I agree. We don't know as much as we like to think we do.

#15 Sarkikos

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 10:15 AM

Michael,

I enjoy looking at Jupiter and Mars because they have that dynamic aspect; if I perceived the Moon to have that same quality, I most assuredly would have more enthusiasm for viewing it!


The dynamic aspect of the Moon is created by the play of sunlight across the lunar features as the lunar month progresses. In this way, the Moon can be seen as more consistently dynamic than Jupiter or Mars.

On the other hand, I consider the hunt by amateur astronomers for TLP (transient lunar phenomena) - in the sense of real physical effects on the lunar surface - as little more than a quixotic quest. Hunting for Sasquatch may have more validity.

At the risk of sounding like I can't figure out the obvious, perhaps this mystique or mystery is what is hampering my consideration of the Moon. Thankfully, I don't think all is lost. Several months ago I read Sheehan and Dobbins' Epic Moon. I found myself considering the Moon in a different light. Rather than looking at it and feeling, "okay, that's really pretty, but so what?", I've been imagining myself as someone from the 17th or 18th century looking at the Moon, considering what I see and wondering how I would interpret it without all the knowledge of the latter half of the 20th century.


I already have that attitude most of the time when viewing the Moon. :grin: I'm definitely NOT thinking about the Apollo missions and Moon probes. :p

But it is a good thing to know the latest theories about the formation of lunar features. The Modern Moon by Charles Wood is a great book for that.

In any event, I still want to order Epic Moon. Sounds like a very interesting book.

Mike

#16 Michael Rapp

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 11:36 AM

Epic Moon was quite enjoyable and very comprehensive. It's also interesting to see how interest in the Moon has waxed and waned (pun intended) over the centuries.

#17 Sarkikos

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 01:15 PM

For those who would like more background on TLP, there is a lengthy article in Selenology Today. Thanks, Raffaello!

published Selenogy Today 34

Mike

#18 A6Q6

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Posted 13 January 2014 - 03:10 PM

Thanks for the link. You will enjoy Epic Moon.

#19 buddyjesus

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Posted 14 January 2014 - 07:44 PM

I read the historical observation parts in astronomy books along with historical books on astronomy. I enjoy the enthusiasm for the discoveries and mysteries of their day. I also enjoy sketching and the moon has to be the hardest target for me. The Reiner Gamma is also a feature where there are hypotheses but not much research as for their cause.

In short there is still plenty of mystique there for me on the moon.






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