A Short History of the Moon
History of Science Museum
Created on July 20, 2020
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How old is the Moon?
The Moon was made when a rock smashed into the Earth
The Moon and the Earth
The Moon is Earth's only permanent natural satellite
The Earth is about 80 times the volume of the Moon, but both are roughly the same age.
Seeing both sides
The Moon is in synchronous rotation with the Earth; it rotates around its own axis in the same time it takes to orbit the Earth.
That means the same side of the moon is always facing the Earth, and the only way to see the side facing away is from a spacecraft.
So there is no 'dark side of the moon': in reality, both sides of the Moon get the same amount of sunlight.
Time and tide ...
The gravitational pull of the Moon on the Earth causes two bulges; one on the side facing the Moon and the other on the opposite side facing away from the Moon.
As the Earth rotates, the bulges move around the oceans causing high and low tides around the globe.
Bye, bye Moon?
The Moon and the Earth are gradually drifting apart; the Moon moves about 3.8cm further away from our planet every year. Scientists estimate this will continue for the next 50 billion years or so, after which the Moon will take about 47 days to orbit the Earth instead of the current 27.3 days.
The Moon in our Solar System
The Moon is the fifth largest natural satellite in the Solar System
At 3,475 km in diameter, the Moon is the fifth-largest natural satellite in the Solar System, and much smaller than the major moons of the Gas Giants Jupiter and Saturn.
However, it is the largest of the planetary satellites relative to the size of the planet that it orbits.
On the Moon
What's it like on the Moon?
The sound of silence
Unprotected from cosmic rays, meteorites and solar winds, the Moon has no atmosphere and its surface experiences huge temperature variations. You cannot hear any sound, and the sky always appears black.
Getting the shakes
While the gravitational pull of the Moon causes tides in the Earth's oceans, the effect of the Earth on the Moon is less poetic: quakes.
Lunar astronauts used seismographs on their visits to the Moon, and identified small moonquakes several kilometres beneath the surface which caused ruptures and cracks.
Another similarity between the Earth and its Moon is the core: scientists think it is molten, just like Earth.
Leaps and bounds
The Moon's mass is smaller than the Earth, which means gravity is much weaker. On the Moon, a human will weigh one sixth (16.5%) of their weight on Earth. That's why lunar astronauts could leap so high in the air.
Man on the Moon
Walking on the Moon
Only 12 humans have walked on the Moon
Six of NASA's Apollo missions landed on the Moon, with two men visiting the surface on each mission.
Neil Armstrong, Commander of the Apollo 11 mission, was the first man to set foot on the Moon on 20th July 1969.
The last man (to date) to walk on the Moon was Gene Cernan on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.
Since then, the Moon's only visitors have been unmanned vehicles.
The first journey to the Moon
The first spacecraft to reach the Moon was Luna 1, launched from the USSR in 1959. It passed within 5,995km of the Moon's surface before going into orbit around the Sun.
The Moon and the Cold War
During the 1950s, at the height of the Cold War, the USA developed a secret project called "A Study of Lunar Research Flights", also known as "Project A119". The plan was to detonate a nuclear bomb on the Moon as a show of strength, as they were lagging behind in the space race.
Fortunately, by the 1960s President Kennedy had decided that "landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to Earth" was a more powerful statement.
The Moon at the History of Science Museum
Drawing the Moon
If you're visiting the History of Science Museum (either in person or using the Virtual Tour), take a look at the staircase which joins the Entrance and Top Galleries.
Welcoming you to the Museum is a five-foot Moon drawing by famous portrait artist John Russell, completed in 1795.
Russell was well-known for his skill with pastels and crayons, and he achieves a variety of nuanced colours by blending just fourteen pigments.
Russell was also a keen astronomer and dedicated himself over 30 years to making systematic, accurate sketches of the Moon. He even bought a Dolland achromatic refractor which was the very latest in telescope technology at the time.
Moon pastel and Selenographia
Take a trip down memory lane and browse through our Blog archive of past exhibitions and talks:
Regiomontanus: The Man in the Moon
Visit the Moonscope exhibition
A Short History of the Moon