The northeast side of El Paso is host to some of the darkest skies in the city, and on Friday night, EPCC’s Transmountain campus held a full moon viewing event.
Free of charge and open to the public, mini lectures were given on lunar facts, five telescopes made available for use, and refreshments were also on hand. The event was hosted by Professor of Astronomy, John Olgin and Advisor for the EPCC Astronomy Club, Dr. Olienka P. De la O.
From controlling ocean tides to the supposed monthly advent of werewolves, the moon has always been a source of unending scientific study, legend, and folklore.
Believed to have formed some 4 billion years ago by a glancing impact of Earth with a Mars sized object, the moon is composed of mostly the same materials as the planet we call home.
Recent scientific research is finally looking to be able to prove this hypothesis by studying minerals from the moon, itself, and finding that a small portion is not of terrestrial origin.
Anyone, anywhere can look up on almost any given night and see the white glow of reflected sunlight on the moon’s surface, shinning down and lighting our way in the dark. And billions of years ago, the moon was ten times closer than it is today.
Imagine being a dinosaur? How bright their skies must have been when the moon was full!
However, the moon is more than just a natural light source. While most people know that the moon’s rotation and gravity affect the tides of Earth’s oceans, a little-known fact of this close relationship is that it also causes non-volcanic tremors in the crust of the planet by making it rise and fall just like the tides.
Basically, as the moon rotates around the Earth, there is a tug-of-war going on. When the moon is on one side of the planet, the tides on that side rise, as does the crust of the Earth.
Simultaneously, on the complete opposite side of the planet, the same thing is occurring.
The moon also helps to stabilize the wobble in the Earth’s axis. Here’s how that works: imagine a pole is driven through the center of the Earth from the North Pole to the South Pole. Now imagine that the top of that pole is wobbling ever so slightly.
The orbit of the Earth is also not a perfect circle around the sun, but rather an elliptical shape.
This means that part of the year, the planet is some 3 billion miles closer to the sun than it is during the other parts of the year. This is what causes our seasons. As the Earth is furthest from the sun, the top part of that imaginary pole is leaning toward the sun, giving summer to the northern hemisphere.
When the Earth is closest to the sun, the imaginary pole is leaning away from the sun, giving the northern hemisphere colder temperatures. That is why when it is winter here, it is summer in Australia.
Without the moon to stabilize this, the wobble would become chaotic, much like a spinning top.This would be very bad news for all life on Earth, including werewolves.
And while the moon is moving away from the planet at a rate of 1-1.5 inches every year, this will not affect Earth for billions of years to come.
Our moon is not the only one out there. The solar system is host to at least 181 known moons that revolve around all but two planets. Even the dwarf planet, Pluto, has five moons.
Some, like Europa and Enceladus are believed to be the home of subsurface oceans; and others like Titan have atmospheres. Though you wouldn’t want to breath the atmosphere on Titan, as it is composed mostly of methane.
And moons aren’t the only interesting sights in the night sky. There are so many wonders that can be seen with the naked eye, a good pair of binoculars, or even a small, backyard telescope.
So, until next time, keep looking up!
Photo gallery courtesy the author.