At some point in one’s life, every person has taken a moment to glance at the moon. Its existence is a challenge to us earthlings. How can something so bright, shiny and mysterious just dangle in the sky –seemingly close enough to touch? Why would we be able to see it if we were not supposed to go lay our feet on its surface? Its presence is one of the most magnificent things nature has to offer. Yet, in many ways, the moon is considered a satellite – an inferior limb of earth, simply rotating with us through infinite space.
In reality, the moon is a friend we would not want to be without. Why do we look upon it with such a feeling of superiority? It takes on the sun’s shine at nearly the same time intervals as we do. Of course, it lives days and nights that we cannot conceive – evenings where the temperature drops 200 below zero, afternoons where it hits 224 degrees Fahrenheit. Its surface is rattled with craters large enough that they can be seen from earth. The craters are real, tangible evidence that the moon has absorbed and survived asteroid collisions that left welts 2,240 kilometers in diameter – nearly 1,400 miles – or the same distance from Philadelphia to Dallas. They run 8 miles deep into the moon’s core. Our own avoidance of these monstrous asteroids is nothing short of a miracle.
From the earth, a simple moment of reflection on the moon can bring a few revelations. Firstly, the moon itself is an enigma – a singular reminder that we are in a place so barren and vast that it is the only object absent from the surface of our planet whose features we can make out with the naked eye. And still, those features look different from everywhere on Earth. In the southern hemisphere, people will see a flipped version of the moon – they are literally standing upside down on our planet. Here, we are sideways, our feet glued to the ground by a thing called gravity, looking crookedly at the sun’s light reflect off of a giant rock more than 384,403 kilometers away.
Similarly, when you consider the moon’s orbit, it is impossible not to think about our own flight through space. Earth, each year, takes on an unfathomable journey with the moon by its side. Six months from today, we will be sitting in a spot in space vastly different from the one we are in now, yet it will go unnoticed. Each second, the earth travels 18 miles through space. Each day, it will travel more than 1.6 million miles through space. In the time it has taken you to read up to this point, the earth has flown so fast through the emptiness that surrounds us that it has covered the distance between San Francisco and New York City. And at each turn, each inevitable tilt and rotation, the moon has stood as our sidekick. Coldly, the man on the moon has been the Robin to our Batman.
In life, the moon is a metaphor for friendship. Its presence is largely understood, occasionally appreciated, and absolutely necessary. Happiness is seldom enjoyed alone. Could you imagine the emptiness of the night without the moon? The terror our evenings would be filled with if it and the stars did not shine in our black canopy?
And for us, this sidekick controls the Earth’s most important offering: water. The tides of our oceans – the same oceans that cover seventy percent of our planet – are sloshing and rolling and coming in and fading out with the movement of the moon. The tops of these oceans reach and split and extend themselves in an effort to follow that moon, and the force between the two is something beyond our imagination and outside the strength of man to interrupt.
Just as some of our friends act in ways we never get the opportunity to see, the moon also affects the earth in ways few people really understand. The tug of war between the moon and sun’s gravitational forces keeps the earth spinning. The north and south poles of the earth are pulled on constantly by these same gravitational forces, dictating when the earth is facing the sun and therefore dictating the seasons that determine our food supply, the temperature and even affecting the emotional state of the living beings on our planet.
Still, though, the moon has its dark side. Quite literally, the moon has a face we have never seen from our planet. It simply rotates on its axis at the exact same rate it orbits the earth, an occurrence few could honestly consider a coincidence. So, for millions and millions of years, only one half of the moon has continually faced us.
Like people, the moon has never completely revealed itself. We can make assumptions about that side, but they will never be proven true or false – it is a Pandora’s Box of questions. Even though people call it the “dark side of the moon,” the reality is that this side of the moon is illuminated the same amount of time as the side we always see. Just as it would be easy to assume a friend hides only their dark side, the truth is the place that they keep from you is truly unknown – a place that could be filled with incredible light or incredible darkness, incredible answers or incredible mystery.
Despite all the things riding against the possibility of the dark side of the moon ever showing itself, scientists do know one thing: with time, the earth’s rotation is continually slowing. The days are getting longer and like all planets, the moon and the earth will someday become tidally locked. At that point, only one side of the Earth will constantly be facing the moon. Its presence in the sky will be a rarity, a jewel held tightly by whomever or whatever is left on this planet. That friend in the sky will be truly treasured, because we will know what it’s like to lose it. So, as time tries it’s best to take away our moons, do your best to fight all those unknown forces. Grab that light in the sky and take a moment to appreciate its presence. You never know when it will fade.
To Bucher and Bender for inspiring this piece, and all the friends that continue to illuminate my sky [my best girly voice]