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What is the Moon?

“Ladies and gentlemen, today I want to inform you that the Moon is a natural satellite of the Earth. A natural satellite is any inevitable heavenly body that orbits round a planet. Therefore the moon is the Earth’s natural satellite and the only one. The moon is sometimes called Luna, and the terms can be used interchangeably, however, “Moon” is the most commonly used term around the world. Like any other spectacular object, the moon has poetic names too – “Selene” and “Cynthia”.

As the origin of the moon has many theories put across and written down, some of which whose hypotheses cannot be proved, I am going to tell you about one of the most informative theories that is put down to describe the origin of the moon. This is called the Giant Impact theory. The giant impact theory states and describes that as the earth was forming around four and a half million years ago, other planetary bodies were also forming along with it, growing together into bigger masses with time. Out of effect from natural forces, one the bodies that were forming collided with the earth during its late growing process, hitting it hard and blowing rocky debris out of it. The tidal interaction between the Earth and the debris then caused a fraction of these debris to form into an orbit around the Earth and further aggregated into the Moon.

As early as 5th century BC, technological developments that would enable mankind reach the surface of the moon were already in progress and in 1969, the first group of astronomers landed on the surface of the moon, with one major aim to find out the ultimate general appearance of the surface of the moon. Thereafter, isotope dating of the rocks from the moon has been made possibly successful and this traces the origin of the moon to about fifty million years ago after the origin of the Solar System.

The moon has various features and characteristics that make it stand out, just like other celestial bodies in the solar system. One of the most fascinating feature is the orbit. The moon has an orbit with a perigee of around three hundred and sixty two thousand and six hundred kilometers (362 600 km) and an apogee of around four hundred and five thousand and four hundred kilometers (405 400 km). This implies with no doubt that the orbit of the moon is not a perfect circle of course, but is almost circular. The moon moves along its orbit at an average speed of one kilometer per second (1.02 km/s) and takes around twenty nine days to complete one revolution round the earth.

Similar to the earth, the moon has an equatorial radius and a polar radius. The equatorial radius of the moon is approximately one thousand, seven hundred and thirty eight kilometers (1738 km) while the polar radius is approximately one thousand, seven hundred and thirty six kilometers (1736 km). It has a mass of thousands of kilograms, a surface area of approximately four million square kilometers, and also a volume of about two trillion cubic kilometers. The deviation in the radii of the moon and its quality of having a mass, definite volume and hence density tell us a lot that the moon has gravity and a definite shape that is an oblate sphere, not a perfect sphere.

The moon, with respect to the position of the earth, usually have a near side and a far side with the near side facing the earth and the far side facing away from the earth. However, due to the relative motion of the moon and the earth, fifty nine percent (59%) of the moon is usually visible. Other significant parts of the moon is the Lunar north pole and the Lunar south pole.

On the surface of the moon there are physical features as described by astronomers who have landed there and telescopic pictures taken for study. One of the most depictable topographical feature is the South Pole Aitken basin which is about two thousand, two hundred and forty kilometers (2,240 km) in diameter and (13 km) deep – the lowest point on the surface of the moon. It is the largest crater on the Moon the second largest confirmed impact crater in the Solar System. The moon also has elevations, mostly located towards the northeast region of the satellite, whose formations are attributed to thickening by the oblique formation of the South Pole-Aitken basin. There are also large impact basins such as Smythii, Crisium, Imbrium, Serenitatis and Orientale all of which possess regionally low elevations and elevated edges.

Another interesting feature of the Moon is the gravitational field. It has been measured through tracking the Doppler shift of radio signals by orbiting spacecraft. The gravitational field of the moon is far much less than the Earth’s gravity. It is approximately 1.62 meters per square of seconds. Therefore, a body will weigh less at the moon as compared to the weight on Earth.

The moon also has magnetism and its external magnetic field is generally less than 0.2 nanoteslas, far much less than the Earth’s magnetic field. However, currently the moon does not have a global dipolar magnetic field but has a crustal magnetization that it has acquired with time in history. Over time, the magnetism has been reduced due to crystallization of the lunar core.

It is also discovered that the surface of the moon has fault scarp cliffs, which means that the Moon has shrunk over time by about ninety meters. More interestingly, there are also volcanic features on the surface of the moon and lunar plains that are clearly seen with naked eye, called maria. Maria are vast solidified pools of ancient basaltic lava that erupted or flowed into the depressions that were formed by the impact basins – these are craters that form when asteroids and comets collide with the moon and create depressions on the surface. Maria also contain several geological provinces with shield volcanoes and volcanic domes, these form the near side of the moon.

The internal structure of the moon also comprise of the core, the mantle and the crust just like the Earth. It also has chemicals and minerals such as iron, alumina, silica, titanium oxide, magnesia and sodium oxide. This chemical composition shows how the crust of the moon shares some characteristics with the Earth’s crust.

Under normal circumstances, liquid water cannot exist on the surface of the moon because it is easily decomposed through photo-dissociation , however, scientists have lately hypothesized that water may be deposited by impacting comets or produced by the reaction of oxygen rich lunar rocks and hydrogen from solar winds.

The temperature on the surface of the moon has a wide range of between -171*C and 140*C. It has a very low atmospheric pressure and high levels of ionizing radiation from the sun and cosmic rays. The surface of the moon is also characterized by dust that are produced by small particles from comets that keep dropping on the surface.

The moon is also responsible for quite a number of phenomena on the surface of the earth and the solar system altogether. One daily phenomenon that is caused by the moon is the low and high tides in large water bodies. The moons gravity is responsible for the formation of all the four types of tides.

Another phenomenon caused by the movement of the moon is the eclipse. Both solar and lunar eclipses are caused by the movement and positioning of the moon in relation to the position of the sun and the earth. Lunar eclipse occur when the Moon moves in line between the Sun and the Earth and the Sun is quite blocked, to produce another peculiar sight called the corona. Solar eclipse is caused when the Earth gets between the sun and the moon and a shadow of the Earth is casted on the surface of the moon. This has helped to identify that the Earth is spherical in shape. Therefore, the moon is actually of great significance to astronomers in study of the Solar System as well as to the whole mankind.

It is good to notice that the moon does not have its own light however bright it appears. Due to the property of the lunar soil that enables reflection of light, the moon actually reflects light that lands on its surface from the sun. Ideally, astronomers and space scientists are still doing research to confirm if the conditions on the moon can support human life.

Finally, it is mindful to identify and correct myths in our daily lives. Some people have actually believed that there is a man on moon, this has eventually lead to an interesting term – “The Man on Moon”, especially among kids, I today declare to you that there is no man on the moon, but the contrast between the brighter highlands and the darker Maria creates a pattern seen by different cultures as a man, rabbit or even a buffalo.

I would wish to inform you that scientists are tirelessly working on projects about the moon, burning the midnight oil alive while studying for any future discoveries about the same.

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