Lesson #53: The Dark Side of the Moon

The far side of Earth's moon as seen by the Apollo 16 mission - April 1972*

Today’s lesson evolved from a single question raised in Chuck Klosterman’s Sex, Drugs and Cocoa Puffs, which a good friend of mine gave me as a going away present before I moved to Europe and which my cousin in a large Canadian city finished reading this morning.

The question: You have won a prize. The prize has two options, and you can choose either (but not both). The first option is a year in Europe with a monthly stipend of $2,000 (US in 2003). The second option is ten minutes on the moon. Which option do you select?

We vehemently disagreed on the answer, which is unusual for us, so we did the most logical thing to settle this question; we took it to Facebook, which,  naturally, led to four hours of debate between my friends, her friends, and our collective friends over which we would choose and why. The reasoning ranged from food and wine in Europe to how much sex one could have by mentioning having been on the moon, from broke students who just want the money to absorbing the beauty of the cosmos, from rocket sickness to historical reasoning. In the end, I think the answers came out even. On my end, it led to a discussion with a close friend about how she would choose Europe because 10 minutes on the moon was not enough time to prove the existence of the dark side of the moon, to which I replied. How do you need proof? It’s the science of orbits.

Turns out, though, that the dark side of the moon — though my scientific understanding of it was accurate in that it is the side of the moon that never faces the earth — is not actually always dark. Just like the earth,** the far side of the moon — its official term — is in darkness half the time and in light half the time. When we have a new moon, the far side of the moon is completely lit; when we have a full moon, it is, well, the dark side of the moon.

Two random pieces of information: the first photographs of the far side of the moon was made in October of 1959 by the Soviet probe Luna 3. The first humans to see the far side of the moon were the astronauts of the Apollo 8 mission in December of 1968 — the success of which, incidentally, led directly to the Apollo 11 mission.

Oh, and my answer to the question? I’d go to the moon.

*For information about the Apollo 16 mission, see here. For lots and lots more information about the moon in general, check out this NASA page.

**I really could have figured this out on my own if I’d considered it for more than two seconds, but really I blame Pink Floyd.

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