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Features: Articles & Interviews

The Moon:
An Overview

2 Eagles flying away from the Moon  

By Michael A. Faries (2.August.2003)

In Space: 1999, the Earth's only natural satellite, the Moon, is flung into deep space after a cataclysmic accident. It serves as the primary vehicle which transports the stranded citizens of Moonbase Alpha to new adventures. The following is an overview of the Moon, including properties, facts and observations.

"Art thou pale for weariness
Of climbing heaven and gazing on the earth,
Wandering companionless
Among the stars that have a different birth,
And ever changing, like a joyless eye
That finds no object worth its constancy?"


"To the Moon"
By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822)

Measurements

Orbit: 384,400 km/ 225,745 miles from Earth (pre-Breakaway) Mass: 7.35e22 kg/ 81 quintillion tons
Orbital cycle: 29.53 days Length of a day: 27.3 days
Radius: 1,080 miles/ 1,738 kilometers Diameter: 2,160 miles/ 3,476 kilometers
Surface temp. (Day): +273 F/ +133 C Surface temp. (Night): -244 F/ -153 C
Gravity at surface: 0.1667 g (1/6 of Earth's) Orbital speed: 2,287 mph/ 4,236 kph
Driving time by moonbuggy (@ 70 mph/ 130kph): 135 days Flying time by Saturn V rocket: 60 to 70 hours
No. of Apollo astronauts who walked on surface: 12 Highest mountains: 16,000+ feet/ 4,877+ meters
Age of oldest rock collected: 4.5 billion years Rocks collected by Apollo missions: 842 lbs./ 382 kilograms
Widest craters: 140 mile diameter/ 225 kilometer diameter Deepest craters: 15,000+ feet/ 4,572+ meters

Composition: According to the Luna, Zond, Ranger, Surveyor, and Apollo moon missions, the Moon is primarily made of three kinds of igneous rocks: Basalt, Anorthosites and Breccias, although scientists found three minerals that are not found on the Earth: Armalocolite, Tranquillityite, and Pyroxferroite.

Origin

The widely accepted hypothesis suggest the Moon was created as the result of a titanic impact onto the accumulating, molten Earth by another object or objects. (Theories range from a potentially Mars-sized object to smaller objects.) The expelled mass was heated and flung into orbit around the Earth where it coalesced into it's current form. The Moon's materials were limited, contributing to a very small metallic core, unlike the larger Earth's core.

Additional theories state the Moon was created during the coalescing of dust and gases during the early solar system development; the Moon was a captured asteroid; and the "fission theory" where the Moon was split from the Earth as it was forming, due to the Earth spinning rapidly.

While the Moon's formation is said to be millions of years ago, the origin of the Moon's materials themselves are measured in billions of years. For example, the oldest rocks taken by the Apollo moon missions are about 4.5 billion years old!

It is theorized that the moon may be responsible for life on Earth, too. Without the tides causing currents and mixing chemicals, life might never have formed.

Views of the Moon

Current view of the Moon (U.S. Naval Observatory Astronomical Applications Department).

Facts

Calculate Your Weight On The Moon

The Moon is approximately 1/6 the mass of the Earth. This means you would weigh about 1/6 of your Earth weight. Using our calculator, learn what your weight would be! Both pounds and kilograms are accepted below.

Enter your weight:


Your moon weight is:

Due to its size and composition, the Moon is sometimes classified as a terrestrial "planet" along with Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars. The Moon was called Luna by the Romans, Selene and Artemis by the Greeks, and many other names in other mythologies.

The moon orbits Earth at 384,400 km (238,900 miles) and takes 27.3 days to orbit the Earth. The rotation period is exactly the same as its orbital period, something that scientists call "tidally locked." This means one half is always facing the Earth while the other half is always facing away. (The unseen side is mistakenly called "the Dark Side of the Moon" although it does receive sunshine in various phases of its orbit.)

The Moon is the second brightest object in the sky after the Sun. As the Moon orbits around the Earth once per month, the angle between the Earth, the Moon and the Sun changes; we see this as the cycle of the Moon's phases. The time between successive new moons is 29.5 days (709 hours), slightly different from the Moon's orbital period (measured against the stars) since the Earth moves a significant distance in its orbit around the Sun in that time.

The Moon was first visited by the Soviet (Russian) spacecraft Luna 2 in 1959. Other robotic probes followed, including Ranger and Surveyor spacecraft. The Moon is the only extraterrestrial body to have been visited by humans. The first manned landing was Apollo 11 mission on 20 July 1969; the last was the Apollo 17 mission on 14 December 1972. The Moon is also the only body from which samples have been returned to Earth. Various unmanned probes have visited the Moon. Recent examples, as of this writing, include Clementine (1994) and Lunar Prospector (1999).

The Earth-Moon gravitational forces cause some interesting effects. The most obvious is the tides. The Moon's gravitational attraction is stronger on the side of the Earth nearest to the Moon and weaker on the opposite side. Since the Earth, and particularly the oceans, is not perfectly rigid it is stretched out along the line toward the Moon. From our perspective on the Earth's surface we see two small bulges, one in the direction of the Moon and one directly opposite. The effect is much stronger in the ocean water than in the solid crust so the water bulges are higher. And because the Earth rotates much faster than the Moon moves in its orbit, the bulges move around the Earth about once a day giving two high tides per day. (This is a greatly simplified model; actual tides, especially near the coasts, are much more complicated.)

But the Earth is not completely fluid, either. The Earth's rotation carries the Earth's bulges slightly ahead of the point directly beneath the Moon. This means that the force between the Earth and the Moon is not exactly along the line between their centers producing a torque on the Earth and an accelerating force on the Moon. This causes a net transfer of rotational energy from the Earth to the Moon, slowing down the Earth's rotation by about 1.5 milliseconds/century and raising the Moon into a higher orbit by about 3.8 centimeters per year. (The opposite effect happens to satellites with unusual orbits such as Mars's Phobos moon and Neptune's Triton moon.)

The asymmetric nature of this gravitational interaction is also responsible for the fact that the Moon rotates synchronously, i.e. it is locked in phase with its orbit so that the same side is always facing toward the Earth. Just as the Earth's rotation is now being slowed by the Moon's influence so in the distant past the Moon's rotation was slowed by the action of the Earth, but in that case the effect was much stronger. When the Moon's rotation rate was slowed to match its orbital period (such that the bulge always faced toward the Earth) there was no longer an off-center torque on the Moon and a stable situation was achieved. The same thing has happened to most of the other satellites in the solar system. Eventually, the Earth's rotation will be slowed to match the Moon's period, too. The Moon appears to wobble a bit, too (due to its slightly non-circular orbit) so that a few degrees of the far side can be seen from time to time.

The Moon's crust averages 68 km thick and varies from essentially 0 km under Mare Crisium to 107 km north of the crater Korolev on the lunar far side. Below the crust is a mantle and probably a small core (roughly 340 km radius and 2% of the Moon's mass). Unlike the Earth, however, the Moon's interior is no longer active. Curiously, the Moon's center of mass is offset from its geometric center by about 2 km in the direction toward the Earth. The lunar crust is thinner on the near side -- and more lava flows occured here.

The Moon does not have active volcanism, although it did exist long ago. As lunar gravity is only one sixth that of the Earth's, the forces which drove lava flows were weaker on the Moon. The very flat and smooth mare surfaces imply that mare lavas were very fluid. Lava would flow very easily, spreading over large areas. Lavas would flow smoothly out onto the lunar surface.

There are two primary types of terrain on the Moon: 1.) the heavily cratered and very old highlands and 2.) the relatively smooth and younger maria ("maria," after the Latin word "mare," which means sea). The maria (which comprise about 16% of the Moon's surface) are huge impact craters that were later flooded by molten lava. Most of the surface is covered with regolith, a mixture of fine dust and rocky debris produced by meteor impacts. For some unknown reason, the maria are concentrated on the near side.

Most of the craters on the near side are named for famous figures in the history of science such as Tycho, Copernicus, and Ptolemaeus. Space: 1999's Moonbase Alpha is situated in the Plato crater (which faced Earth). It is not known specifically where the Nuclear Waste Dumps are/were housed.

In addition to the familiar features on the near side, the Moon also has the huge craters South Pole-Aitken on the far side which is 2250 km in diameter and 12 km deep making it the the largest impact basin in the solar system and Orientale on the western limb (as seen from Earth; in the center of the image at left) which is a splendid example of a multi-ring crater.

Evidence from the Clementine probe suggested that there may be water ice in some deep craters near the Moon's north and south poles which are permanently shaded; the Lunar Prospector probe confirmed the findings.

A total of 382 kg of rock samples were returned to the Earth by the Apollo and Luna programs. These provide most of our detailed knowledge of the Moon. They are particularly valuable in that they can be dated. Even today, more than 30 years after the last Moon landing, scientists still study these precious samples. The majority of lunar surface rocks appear to be between 3 and 4.6 billion years old.

The Moon has no global magnetic field. But some of its surface rocks exhibit remanent magnetism indicating that there may have been a global magnetic field early in the Moon's history. A compass will not work normally on the Moon's surface. The Moon has a weak, patchy and blotchy magnetic field. Interestingly, the fields are random, save in some places where there is a more coherent field that seems to be related to big impact craters -- on the opposite side of the Moon from the impact!

With no atmosphere and no magnetic field, the Moon's surface is exposed directly to the solar wind. During its 4 billion year lifetime, hydrogen ions from the solar winds have become embedded in the Moon's regolith. (This lunar hydrogen can be harvested as fuel/energy.)

Additional facts include:

Space development in Space: 1999

In the Space: 1999 universe, specifics about lunar colonization weren't disclosed. Based on events within the production, we can assume:

Moonbase Alpha: Plato Crater

Within the Space: 1999 universe, the permanent lunar colony known as Moonbase Alpha is believed to be situated in the Moon's Plato crater.

Plato crater: Home of Moonbase Alpha  

Plato is one of the most prominent lunar features, residing at 52N latitude and 10W longitude. The crater is situated between Mare Imbrium and Mare Frigoris. It is frequently described as a "walled plain" rather than an impact crater. The surface is remarkably smooth and dark-colored.

Since the lunar surface is airless (and sans weather), any disturbances, like footprints, are forever etched into the soil/crust until otherwise changed. The construction of Moonbase Alpha likely scarred the lunar surface, although images around the base exterior show the lunar surface to be clean/pristine. You may conjecture that there was a "lunar wilderness protection act" in place which attempted to protect the lunar surface, or the base's construction was done with minimal effect to the surface, or ??

For consideration: Parts of Moonbase Alpha reside underground, such as the Eagle hangars. Their construction required prior excavation (digging) work. The removed soil/crust may have been scattered around the base to cover the affected areas.

Plato Crater also appears to have subterranean catacombs which extend for miles. It's possible that ancient volcanic disturbances could have created numerous passages/tubes. (Plato is situated between Mare Frigoris and Mare Imbrium, two maris regions with heavy ancient lava flows.) For consideration: The surface of Plato appears to be dark, akin to eons-old lava flows. (It is not known how underground lava flows - and lava tubes - would form in lunar conditions, though, to create the catacombs.) If so, then old volcanic actions could have created the various catacombs seen on Space: 1999.

Post-Breakaway: Moon

Since the Nuclear Waste Dump #2 explosions of 13 September 1999, the Moon has been hurled from Earth orbit and into an endless interstellar journey. The underlying subtext within the series is: a Mysterious Unknown Force (MUF) is actually guiding the wayward Moon on an odyssey without end.

In interstellar space, the Moon has miraculously stayed intact, despite varying levels of radiation exposures, gravitational forces, strange phenomena and object collisions (both microscopic and macroscopic in size/mass).

Moonbase Alpha has also weathered the changes and cosmic forces quite well. Built as a self-sufficient, permanent lunar colony, the base was constructed with execptionally durable and protective materials. Subterranean caverns, passages, repair work and extensions of the primary base have been made over time, too.

Note: It is not known if a second permanent base (ie. Moonbase Beta) was initiated, or where it would have resided on the Moon.

Post-Breakaway: Earth

For millions of years, the Earth-Moon system has affected the cycle of life on Earth. The Moon exerts tidal forces upon the planet, which in turn, seriously affect marine organisms. The tidal cycles help to mix water, elements and nutrients. With the departure of the Moon, marine life would be decimated and land/air-based organisms would survive, based on adaptability and evolution. Many organisms plans their daily work according to tidal occurances. Various organisms, such as nocturnal animals, rely on moonlight to work, prey and even mate. (Example: Corals spawn ONLY during full moon days.)

(And you thought I was going to mention human mating cycles! ;-) )

With the loss of the Moon from Earth orbit, global geological chaos would ensue. There would be virtually no tides, save for the Sun's influence which would maintain tides at 1/3 as one-third as today's tides. Winds would be stronger and more persistent. More space debris might impact Earth instead of striking the former Moon's position.

And with the Moon's speedy departure, the Earth's orbital rotation and axis might be affected as well, creating untold problems. Without the moon constantly tugging on the Earth, the Earth would spin more rapidly than it does now. According to Neil Comins in his book, "What If The Moon Didn't Exist," the length of a day would be considerably shorter on Earth if there were no moon.

Additional sources/references

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