It was smooth, they said. Like a babe’s bottom, they said. Trust us, they said, Aristotle said so.
"They" were talking about the moon. Galileo wasn’t convinced. So in 1609, he turned his telescope up toward the half disk above him, and began to sketch. In doing so, he changed what the world knew to be true in an instant, setting in motion a sequence of events that would see a dozen men stand on its surface three and a half centuries later, filling sacks with the very rocks that cast stark shadows on that historic day.
"…on the contrary it is full of inequalities, uneven, full of hollows and protuberances, just like the surface of the earth itself, which is varied everywhere by lofty mountains and deep valleys.
I have noticed that the small spots just mentioned have this common characteristic always and in every case: that they have the dark part towards the sun’s position, and on the side away from the sun they have brighter boundaries, as if they were crowned with shining summits. Now we have an appearance quite similar on the earth at sunrise, when we behold the valleys, not yet flooded with light, but the mountains surrounding them on the side opposite to the sun always ablaze with the splendor of its beams.”
And that was the first description of the terminator, the line between lunar night and glowing day, pocked with light-grabbing protrusions and cavernous craters. Earth, too, is full of inequalities, with some points reaching up to catch a piece of the sun, while the dusty spots beneath them are resigned to frigid darkness, at least for a while, but invisible until the light comes back around.
Four hundred years later, I pointed a digital photon capturing device at that very disk, and witnessed the same thing.
I’ve seen a lot of spacey photos in my time. Enough so that I catch myself occasionally making a jaded sigh, saying “Oh neat, another shot of a spacecraft in front of the moon. Been there, done that."
Then I punch myself in the arm and tell myself to shut up because these are pictures of SPACE.
That’s what happened with Maximilian Teodorescu’s shot of the International Space Station against the face of the moon. At first I was minorly impressed, because it’s a very small thing traveling very fast, in front of a larger thing that is even farther away. But people take pictures of the ISS all the time. Big deal.
Then I realized that this one was taken during the day. At that point I lost my schnoodles. I’m betting a few of you will too.
(via Overthinking It)
An amazing GIF of a volcano erupting on Jupiter’s moon - via @simonowens
This superb shot is Jupiter’s moon Io, showing the Tvashtar Paterae volcanic region, as captured by NASA’s New Horizons satellite.
Random fact: Volcanoes are named for the Roman god Vulcan, who was a son of Jupiter, and this moon orbits the planet of the same name … whooooooooa man. (Io, however, is part of Greek mythology, and was a lover of Zeus)
This is not to be confused with the equally gorgeous Saturnian moon Enceladus and its spouting geysers (below).
The very first photo of the moon, taken by John William Draper in 1839.
Draper immigrated to the United States from England and became a chemistry professor at NYU. This daguerreotype print was the first of a series of silver platinum plates he shot using a telescope. Draper was also the first person to shoot a portrait in America, a photograph of his sister Dorothy-Catherine . In 1864, he became chairman of the American Photographic Association.
Pair with Ordering the Heavens, a visual history of humanity’s quest to depict the cosmos before telescopes.
Curious how it was done before we had fancy space telescopes? I recommend this slideshow from National Geographic: Milestones in Space Photography, featuring the first shot of the sun, taken by Louis Fizeau and Leon Foucault in 1845:
Explosion on the Moon!
Pock-marked with craters and splotched with long-cold beds of dark lava, our moon holds thousands of footprints from its violent past. But we don’t really think of it having a violent present.
Well, it still gets its fair share of action. On March 17, 2013, NASA astronomers captured video of a meteorite striking the moon. It made an explosion bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, like a temporary star drawn on the lunar surface. It turns out that these collisions are not that rare.
Most of the moon’s many meteor marks date from a period known as the Late Heavy Bombardment. That, combined with a magma-riffic adolescence gave the moon the special look we know today. Of course, none of that is as violent as the moon’s birth.
Anyway, make sure to watch that video above and see the meteor strike live. You’ll never look at the moon the same way again.
Topographical Map of the Moon centering on the south pole
Colors represent altitude:
- purple (over 9,000 metres below surface level),
- blue (3,000 below),
- green (zero altitude),
- yellow (2,000 metres above surface level),
- orange (4,000 metres above)
- red (8,200 metres above).
A massive impact crater known as South Pole - Aitken basin is seen here as the purple and dark blue patch just below the south pole and is 2,500 kilometers in diameter.
Picture: SPL / Barcroft Media (via X )
You can’t begin to appreciate the violent history of the moon until you see it like this.
Not quite a scene from E.T., but close …
What a stunning shot of the moon! Not only does this perfectly capture the optical oddities of the “moon illusion” (why the moon looks bigger near the horizon), but when you think about the sheer technical mastery that went in to making it happen … WOW!
Philipp Schmidli (his website, in German) set up on a hillside a kilometer away so he could get this angle, after scouting the perfect spot on foot using GPS. To get the photo he needed to use a 1200 mm focal length, which is like a reverse-sniper-rifle of optical input. The moon illusion is enhanced by that telephoto trick, too, but you can head over to io9 if you want to dig into the technical details (several commenters there have done a good job with it).
Looking for a beautiful way to kill some time on a weekend afternoon? Listen to Liev Schreiber reading Italo Calvino’s "The Distance of the Moon", from Cosmicomics. It’s a tale of the evolution of our moon, from a time when it was not so far away, milked for nourishment by lunar herdsmen.
How wonderful that a story could be built on science (our moon did used to be closer to us, and moves farther away every year) yet journey so far into the imagination!
(photo by Laurent Laveder)
Moon Rise Time Slice…. this is a collage of 11 photos taken over 27 minutes and 59 seconds
Gorgeous. Also photographic proof that the moon is not, in fact, larger near the horizon. That is merely an illusion.
What do they call that illusion? "The Moon Illusion" of course. ASAPScience did a really nice video about it.
Not only that, but see how the moon is red near the horizon? That’s because of the same science that makes the sunsets red and orange! And I did a video about that: “Why is the Sky Any Color At All?”
It all comes together, man! Science!