12 little known facts about our big stupid moon

Since the beginning of time, mankind has been bored and annoyed by the moon. It's a big dumb sky booger that inhibits beachfront development with its constant tide shenanigans; is the chief cause of werewolfism; and has a perpetual and unwarranted "O-face."

Just horrible.

Sadly, scientists have yet to devise a technology capable of pushing the moon into some other unfortunate planetary body's orbit (despite some promising overtures from the political class). So, people of Earth, it looks like Pockmarked McCheeseface won't be going anywhere anytime soon. I suppose we might as well try to learn some things about our common global irritation. Here we present some little known facts about the big stupid moon that, if nothing else, you can use to score points in pub trivia and impress strangers with your random and needlessly extensive moon knowledge.

Enjoy.




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12. There Is A Human On The Moon Right Now. Kinda.

A geologist who worked on the Apollo missions by the name of Dr. Eugene Shoemaker was a little too in love with the moon. When Dr. Shoemaker died in the late 1990s, his family (including wife and fellow NASA scientist Carolyn S. Shoemaker, who holds the record for most comets discovered, by the way) arranged for his ashes to hitch a ride on NASA's Lunar Prospector space probe which was deliberately crashed into the moon in 1999. Dr. Shoemaker is, for now, the only human to have his Earthly (moonly?) remains scattered up there on ol' crater face.

Image via NASA.




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11. The Moon is A Shifty Character With Many Faces

In China, instead of a "man in the moon" looking down at the Earth in constant surprise, they see a toad. Other cultures have interpreted the pattern of darkened moon splotches (which are the result of ancient volcanic eruptions forming vast, comparatively dark planes) as a witch carrying a stick or an old man with a lantern (as they did in Elizabethan England — mentioned in A Midsummer's Night Dream); a woman standing next to a tree (native New Zealanders); a cook working over a fire (Polynesia); a hare or rabbit (Japan, Korea, and pre-Columbian Mesoamerica); and even the name of Muhammad's son-in-law, Hazrat Ali Ibne-Abi Talib (Shia Muslims).




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10. The Moon Has Close To Zero Magnetism

The moon has no external magnetic field (or a nearly negligible one that measures in at less than 1/100th of the Earth's field). This is largely because the moon is stupid and doesn't want compasses to work. But also is probably due to the moon's lack of a liquid metal core. The light wispy bits of a what passes for a lunar magnetic field are thought to result from large impact events, which apparently can do that.

image via here.




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9. The Moon is Cold and Unfeeling

Due to their angle to the sun, depth and lack of incubating atmosphere, the craters at the lunar poles are extremely cold (and thus have been able to retain water ice left behind from comet impacts). NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter measured the temperature in some of these craters to be 26 Kelvin (-412.87 degrees Fahrenheit). This is the coldest temperature in our solar system ever measured by a spacecraft, colder than even the surface of Pluto (that poser planet at the far end of the known solar system).

The lunar pole. Image via here.




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8. The Moon Is Probably Smaller Than You Think

The moon has roughly the same total surface area as the entire continent of Africa. And now you know that.

Image via NASA




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7. Domesticated Animals Are Fairly Blah about The Moon

Folklore often attributes strange or erratic behavior in humans and animals to lunar phases (see origin of the term "lunatic"). There are contradicting studies regarding human and animal behavior in conjunction with the stages of the moon.

One English survey found a direct correlation with hospital admissions for humans due to dog bites on days under or near a full moon, while a similar study in Australia found a decrease in dog bite hospitalizations under a full moon's watch. Meanwhile, a Colorado State University study reported an increase in veterinary emergency room visits for both cats and dogs on days on or adjacent to a full moon (23% higher for cats, 28% higher for dogs).

These increases in hospital admissions for man and beast during a full moon may be the result of a better illuminated nighttime environment providing more opportunity for predation among animals and mischief among humans.

image via




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6. Dung Beetles Like The Moon. Figures.

While the research on the moon's affect on humans and domesticated animals remains inconclusive, the phases of the moon have well understood affects on the behavior of animals in the wild. For example, nocturnal animals at the top of the food chain have been observed as being more likely to venture out into the open, while those on the bottom may be less inclined. Marine animals are known to move to different depths in the water in conjunction with the phases of the moon so as to always be in the same amount of light.

African dung beetles have been observed walking in straighter lines (with balls of dung in tow) during full moons. Otherwise they'd be zig-zagging all over the place with their bounty of elephant poo, which I suppose is a good thing. So, on behalf of dung creators, movers, and admirers: thank you, moon.

image via




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5. The Moon Is Not A Seminal Work of Progressive Rock

Only 59% of the moon is ever visible from Earth since it rotates at the same speed at which it revolves—something called synchronous rotation. This far side of the moon is sometimes referred to as "the dark side of the moon" despite the fact that illumination really has nothing to do with it. So, Pink Floyd lied to you.

image: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University via




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4. The Moon Is Not The Earth's Only Moon

According to a recent multi-university study, the moon is not the Earth's only moon. They concluded that at any given time there is at least one "minimoon" of at least one meter across orbiting around the Earth. These munchkin moons are usually asteroids that get caught up in the Earth's gravitational pull as they are making their way around our sun. These objects can spend anywhere from a few months to a decade zipping around the Earth. Often the orbits are wildly varied (see above) as the tiny satellite is pulled between the Earth, the moon and the sun.

image via University of Hawaii




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3. The Moon Causes Earthquakes Because It Is A Jerk

The moon doesn't only influence ocean tides, but actually tugs at the solid Earth, causing bulges in solid mass of about one foot at the equator when the moon is directly overhead. Minor "Earth tides" can also form horizontally on the surface, which can adversely affect GPS coordinates at minute scales. Scientists believe that these tides are the cause of small tremors and volcanic eruptions, especially in the equatorial region. Thanks, moon.




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2. You Can Buy the Moon

In 1967, the United Nations ratified the Outer Space Treaty which states that "space" is the "province of all mankind," thus not subject to any claims by sovereign states. And there is a more specific "Moon Treaty" which places jurisdiction over all celestial bodies to "the international community," however of the 13 states who have signed the treaty, not one has any real space capability, in effect rendering it null.

But these treaties haven't stopped many (mostly crazy and/or devious) individuals from laying claim to lunar real estate. Among them is German citizen Martin Juergens who maintains that the moon has been the property of his family since July 15, 1756, when Prussian Emperor Frederick the Great presented it as a gift to his ancestor.

Mr. Juergens has asserted his right to the moon in response to Nevadan entrepreneur Dennis Hope's Lunar Embassy Corporation, which has sold tracks of real estate on the moon and on other celestial bodies to millions of paying customers (yes, millions). In case you're interested, one acre of lunar land can be purchased in your name for $19.99 (plus $1.51 "lunar tax" and an additional $12.50 for shipping and handling for the official deed of moon ownership). Dennis Hope, you are a brilliant genius.




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1. We May Be Rid of the Moon Yet!

As it turns out the moon is literally inching away from the Earth (about 1.5 inches per year). That may not seem like much, mostly because it isn't. But that means that in about 50 billion years, the moon will take up barely a fraction of the sky it does now. If that seems too long to wait to get rid of the moon, think of it this way: long before that happens the sun will have expanded into a red giant and probably destroy both the Earth and the moon in the process!

So, look at it this way: either way, there is an end in sight to our moon troubles. High-five!

Evan Dashevsky is a DVICE contributor and a professional word nerd for hire. Follow his cough-sized thoughts on Twitter @haldash.

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