Archive for the ‘Moon’ Tag

Moonstruck   Leave a comment

MoonDaguerreotype

The Moon, as photographed by Louis Daguerre, 1839

I’m not kidding when I say I’ve been moonstruck since childhood. That’s when my parents dragged me out of bed on one sultry July evening. Mom opened the bedroom door, shook me and said, “Wake up! You have to see this!” Grumpily, I dragged my sleepy self down the hall and into the living room, where my parents, grandparents, sister and brother sat, glued to the TV. My seven-year-old self stared at the screen, impatient. After a few moments, Neil Armstrong hopped out of the LM and into history, followed shortly thereafter by Buzz Aldrin.

The whole concept seemed so wild to me. That giant Saturn rocket shooting them into space. Three men jammed into what seemed not much larger than a Volkswagen Beetle. Being able to see and hear them from an ever increasing distance. And then, the landing. Walter Cronkite’s gushing on air wasn’t much different from everyone in my house. Or the world, for that matter.

I didn’t really think about all the technology, or the training, or the money, or even the space race that evening. Other NASA missions came and went, and my family followed them all. But somehow, this one stood out from the rest. Three guys achieved something no one else has ever done then and since (although that will change shortly).

All I knew was that I wanted to be an astronaut. Desperately.

As the years went by, I shifted my interests to astronomy and learning the constellations, and the shifting planets in the nighttime sky, plus the occasional comet and meteor showers. I never did well in math, so I gave up my dream of becoming an astronomer. But my love for the offworld never faded, and I kept my sweet spot for the moon.

There’s nothing more entrancing than watching the glow of a full moon on a white blanket of snow, as the whitened trees glisten from its brightness. Or how a summer night feels so romantic with the moon sailing over the ocean. How welcoming the moon can be when it peeps out from a clearing sky, or transform into a mysterious red when it eclipses. Or blots out the sun and turns black.

Lots of sci-fi novels and movies use the moon as a backdrop or a plot device. It has religious significance for many. One can be mooned, have a moonface, or eat a moon pie, or wear a moonstone. Or be like Cher and Nicholas Cage and be moonstruck.

If you’re lucky and under the right conditions, you can catch the new moon in the old moon’s arms, or the old moon’s arm around the new moon. That means right before and after a new moon, there’s a thin ribbon of light, the slenderest of crescents, holding the dark side. Through a telescope or good binoculars, you can make out some details of the dark side too. This phase doesn’t last long, as it’s right before sunrise or just after sunset, and the moon is very close to the sun in the sky and very near the horizon.

If you catch it just at the right time, you can see an occultation, or the moon appearing to hide a star or planet. It’s literally now you see it, now you don’t. The moon slides in front of a celestial body, for a matter of minutes or hours. Then the celestial body magically reappears. It’s fascinating to watch.

During daylight, a moonrise might seem as if it’s almost see-through and blue. Spotting a full moon rising from a mountaintop is downright spectacular. You’ll never see something so big in your entire life. Or catching it rising over the ocean – the glow on the horizon, then a tiny, shy peep, as it creeps higher into the sky, a ribbon of light shimmering over the ocean’s surface, until, for a moment, the entire orb appears to be balancing on the horizon itself. Way cool!

I’ve already spent much of last and this week reliving the moon landing and the entire NASA early space mission by watching programs on PBS, or reading articles, or posts on my Twitter feed. I still marvel at this accomplishment.

But most importantly, I remember how unifying this singular moment was for our planet. How we all came together to marvel at such an achievement. It was an accomplished started out of competition and ended in peace. We need, not only as a nation, but as ambassadors of this legacy, to remember what good can come of scientific achievements, and to put aside all that makes us angry and frustrated, in order to move forward to use our discoveries to better the fates of all humankind.

 

Wanted: A Planet to Call Home   2 comments

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Credit: NASA

Clearly, we’ve grown bored with the Earth.  It’s that lover one always strives to please, yet somehow no matter what one does, it’s never right.  In the end, one gives up and goes elsewhere to find love and acceptance.  Its inhabitants have, in equal parts, loved and abused it, ignored its warnings and acted surprised when it fought back.  In the end, we all know it’ll get its way and beat us, but no one who borrows time trodding on its grassy plains and thick muddy fields ever thinks about that prospect.

Instead, our eyes shift upward, looking elsewhere for a better situation and a second chance.

Ever since the discovery of exoplanets, or those outside of our own solar system, space explorers have been determining which of those planets will host life and, optimistically, life that we can identify, and, how we’re going to to meet up one day.  Average citizens, whose off-world opportunities are rather limited, have to rely on imagination and conjecture to supply possibilities.  After all, those alien spaceships have to come from somewhere, right?  They can’t all be bad.  Those Antarians from the movie “Cocoon” did benefit the forgotten population of greying Floridians, even supplying a ride back to Antarea to seniors deserving of a new life.

Closer to home, it’s simpler to take advantage of our backyard planets and subsequent moons.  Once humans figured out what planets actually were, they’ve also contemplated living upon them.

Take, for instance, the moon.  Relatively ancient technology got us there and back for a short visit way back when.  Nowadays, it’s entirely feasible to build a craft to ship us there en masse to create a colony there, given its relative nearness.  We already know there’s a supply of water and rare earth elements just hankering to be mined.  Nearly every genre of science is hankering to conduct experiments there, driven by desire, curiosity and the uniqueness of the lunar environment.  Americans, Russians, as well as private interests all have plans in the works to get up there by the 2020s and make a homestead claim.

Humans attach great meaning to the color red.  Anger, temptation, danger and naughtiness are all meanings associated with it – just about everything we’re not supposed to have and desperately crave.  I’m assuming that’s the subliminal reason why Mars is so magnetic.  After all, this red planet practically begs someone to come hither.  Probes coyly hint at the richness of Mars’ treasures.  Water’s there, too, although not behaving the way we’d like it to be, adding more to its mystique.  And like a forbidden love, the more determined we are to have it, the more money it costs to secure it.  I’ve no doubt there’ll be a batch of humans trying to tame the Wild Red Planet’s surface, but it’ll come at a price, no one will be happy, but we’ll be never be satisfied until we at least have a first date.  Then we’ll see.

Until then, I’m going to bide my time and see what openings Virgin Galactic has in the near future.  I might want to book a ride.

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