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Moon - Click here for a bigger pitcure

Technical Data:-

Diameter 3476 km
Size c.0.25 Size of Earth
Surface gravity 1/6 g
Surface temperature Max  +105C
Min  -155C
Length of day 27.3 Earth days
Length of Earth orbit 27.3 Earth days
Oldest rocks 4,500 million years
Density 3.3 g/cm3
Atmosphere None
Escape Velocity 2.38 km/sec

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Lunar Terrain

Formation of the Moon

Other Info

    The Moon is the earth's only natural satellite (hence its name the Moon) and it is an abnormaly large moon for a planet the size of the Earth - its diameter is about 1/4 the size of Earth's. Consequently, it is sometimes known as a double planet - not to the same extent as Pluto, whose moon Charon has a diameter just half Pluto's size, but enough to warrant the term's use.

    As the Moon is the only celestial object close enough to be able to make out its details with the naked eye, as well as being by far the closest such body, we know more about the Moon than anything else in the Solar System (save the Planet Earth of course). Countless telescopes and spacecraft have scrutinised it in great detail, and men have even walked on its surface. And yet remarkably, we still know very little about its far side, which is forever facing away from the Earth and untouched by terran eyes (all we know about it is from the Luna 3 probe which passed by the far side in 1959). This is all because the length of the Moon's orbit of the Earth and the length of its day are identical - it is thus said to rotate synchronously with the Earth.

    Lunar Terrain

    Broadly speaking, there are two main types of Lunar terrain - the brighter, higher 'terrae' and the darker 'maria'. The latin words are in fact rather descriptive; the terrae are packed full of craters and basins, often overlapping, which are almost all thought to be caused by meteoric impacts. This terrain therefore, whose top few kilometres of crust has been repeatedly broken, crushed and remoulded bythese impacts, bears more resemblance to the rugged earth land, than do the calmer, darker, lower maria (in latin = seas).

    Rather unsurprisingly, of the 16% of Lunar land which is covered by the maria, most of it is on the side facing the Earth, as this side has been less exposed to meteoric impacts. It is thought that the maria as we see them today are substantially more recent than the terrae, and have therefore been subject to less bombardments. It is also important to point out that different such 'seas' on the Moon can be quite geologically different from each other.

    The Formation of the Moon

   The existence of the Moon has long posed some challenging questions to Astronomers. After all, only 2 of the 4 inner planets, Earth and Mars, have moons, and Mars' two moons are clearly mere asteroids, captured by Mars' gravitational pull. Analysis of the Lunar rocks returned by the Apollo astronauts has shown that none of the previous theories of the Moon's formation could be totally correct. These theories included the idea that the Moon formed at the same time as the Earth from the same cloud of dust and gas, an idea which was shown to be wrong as the Lunar composition was shown to be slightly different to the Earth's. Another idea was that the Moon was captured by the Earth's gravity, but calculations show the Earth would not have had a strong enough gravitational pull to capture a fast-moving Moon sized object.

   However, in the mid 1970s, a new theory was proposed, which has since recieved enthusiastic support from many astronomers, and this si the 'giant impact' theory. The idea is that a large object hit a young, hot Earth 4,500 million years ago in an off-centre collision, causing large quantities of both the Earth and of the object's material to be ejected from the planet and into the Earth's orbit. This material eventually coalesced to form the Moon. Not only does this hypothesis sound plausible, but it would also explain the Earth's fast spin rate, and the orientation of the Moon's orbit.

    Other Information

    The 'lunar crust' was formed near the start of the moon's history by it's outer layers melting to form a layer of magma which covered the whole moon and then subsequently cooling. Although in its history it has had some volcanic activity, this has now ceased and the Moon is sometimes referred to as a 'fossil planet'. This isn't entirely true though as earthquakes have been recorded deep below the Moon's crust.

Brief History:-

    The oldest Moon rock we have is 4,500 million years old but there is evidence to suggest that the Moon is even older. The first human telescopic observation of it though was in 1610 by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei. Then, a few centuries later in 1959 the Soviet Luna 2 became the first spacecraft to reach (or rather, crash into) the Moon. The first landing followed in 1966 by the Luna 9. Then the manned Apollo 11 reached the moon in 1969, followed by the rest of the Apollo missions (12-17) - except of course for Apollo 13. Then in 1998, 25 years after the last Moon mission, the NASA Lunar Prospector orbited the moon and then crashed into it. More info including why it 'failed to kick up a visible dust cloud on impact', and much more suchlike interesting facts can be found at the Lunar Prospector Homepage.

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