Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Looking Back at the Moon

For old astronomy buffs, there's been a lot to celebrate this week. Most of us can remember where we were on July 20,1969--and I'm no exception: baseball game, watching the Angels at what was then called Anaheim Stadium. The Angels were playing the Oakland Athletics, who won 9-6. The old stadium didn't have much in the way of cool graphics capabilities, but they did show a rough version of the lunar module slowly descending to the "surface" of the moon. When it stopped, the crowd erupted and the poor guy at bat, who was behind in the count, couldn't figure out what the hell was going on. Then he looked up at the scoreboard, threw down his hat, and started jumping up and down. I can't remember who it was, but I think it was one of the guys who pitched--and since this was in the days before designated hitters, I could actually be right. Anyway, when something great happens, like a moon landing, it's rather fun to be with a big crowd.

Then, yesterday, if you were living in the right place (mainly China and India), you got to see the longest solar eclipse of the century. In honor of all this I though it would be a good idea to revisit my favorite repositories of web-available images for an historical look at moon pictures.

My first stop was, as usual, Wikimedia Commons, which produced a page of Galileo drawings of moon phases, a Japanese print of a wolf in front of a full moon, and a detailed map of the moon.

Galileo, Phases of the Moon (1616)

Tsukioka Yoshitoshi Full moon in Mushasi, 1890

I can't do the Map of the Moon justice here; you'll have to go to the link and enlarge the image, but it's rather wonderful. It was created for the Andrees Allgemeiner Handatlas, 1st Edition, published in Leipzig in 1881 and scanned by "Grombo" for the Commons.

I then found a composite photo of the earth and the moon, which originally came from GRIN (Great Images in NASA):

The Earth and Moon, created from two separate images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in 1992. See the GRIN page on the image for the full description. And here's another great shot from the same website, taken from the Apollo 16 Command and Service Module on April 23, 1972. The Lunar Module carrying John Young and Charles Duke were on their way up to "Casper" after three days of exploration.

I also revisted the New York Public Library's Digital Gallery for another drawing by E. L. Trouvelot (who was featured in an earlier Cabinet post on astronomy), this time one showing a partial lunar eclipse.

The event was observed on October 24, 1874 and published c. 1881-1882.

Back at Wikimedia Commons I found the image that says it all for me, and which opens the post: "Earthrise." This may well be the most evocative photograph to come out of the space program, and was taken On Christmas Eve, 1968, by Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders in orbit around the moon. The information on the link notes that

this phenomenon is only visible to an observer in motion relative to the lunar surface. Because of the Moon's synchronous rotation relative to the Earth (i.e., the same side of the Moon is always facing Earth), the Earth appears to be stationary (measured in anything less than a geological timescale) in the lunar 'sky'. In order to observe the effect of Earth rising or setting over the Moon's horizon, an observer must travel towards or away from the point on the lunar surface where the Earth is most directly overhead (centred in the sky).

I was, alas, too busy to properly mark the 40th anniversary of the first actual landing, but I did want to wax sentimental about it as soon as I could. At my age, celebrating things that happened that long ago is part of what's good about getting old. We were there, we saw it happen, and it was amazing. That Walter Cronkite died almost on the anniversary itself is almost poetic; after all, he was part of the experience.

As I type, I'm watching and listening to astronauts Dave Wolf and Chris Cassidy doing some battery work and preparing for a payload transfer to the Japanese module, Kibo, on the International Space Station. I never get tired of listening to these guys as they work, and will be forever grateful for the NASA TV gadget that shares space with the moon phase gadget on my desktop.

My hope for the future is that today's young folk have a chance to experience the wonder and the sense of human accomplishment generated by spectacular achievements in the various space programs currently in progress. And I hope I live long enough to see somebody (I don't really care who) go to Mars and come back. Maybe they could retrieve Spirit and Opportunity so we can put 'em in the Smithsonian for subsequent generations to enjoy, like my kids enjoyed seeing artifacts from the Apollo missions, moon rocks, and Neil Armstrong's space suit.


betty-NZ said...

Those are some phenomenal photos to celebrate a wonderful accomplishment! Thanks for all the info you provided.

Joe Todd said...

Great idea for a post. enjoyed the lesson now will check out your other blog