Back to the Moon for fresh perspectives

Perspectives on the Moon
I thought we could head back to the Moon for an updated visit and marvel at our first off-world landing site.

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We see it in our skies regularly and we forget what a momentous achievement it was for humanity to land on the Moon. As exciting as the planned Mars missions are, there is still so much to learn about our nearest neighbour.

Did you know?

  • The Moon was probably formed when an object about the size of Mars collided with the Earth a long time ago. The debris from that collision formed what we now know as the Moon.
  • Our rocky satellite orbits the Earth at a distance of roughly 384 thousand kilometers.
  • It takes the Moon about 27 days to orbit the Earth. This is also about the length of a lunar day so we only ever see one side of the Moon from Earth.
  • It has a very weak atmosphere called an exosphere. It is not enough to support human life so visitors to the Moon need to wear spacesuits.
  • The Moon’s gravity is about 0.16 of the Earth’s gravity so objects on the lunar surface weigh about a sixteenth of what they would weigh on Earth.

There are many more facts about the Moon on the NASA page titled “Earth’s Moon – In Depth”.

The first Moon landing

The Apollo 11 Prime Crew

Humans first landed on the Moon on 20 April 21 July 1969. The astronauts who took part in the Apollo 11 mission were Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin.

The mission to the Moon captivated the world. You can get a sense of how people must have felt as the astronauts headed to the Moon and eventually landed on the lunar surface from this CBS footage of that momentous day:

We’re so accustomed to seeing high quality images and video footage of modern space exploration that it’s easy to forget that the technology back then was not nearly as advanced. We’ve certainly come a long way since then.

Aldrin Next to Solar Wind Experiment

What does the Moon look like?

Thanks to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, we have some incredible footage. Here are two videos of both hemispheres of the Moon, including the side we don’t see from Earth.

This video footage shows the Moon’s position throughout 2017 with a lot of useful data that includes the Sun’s relative position, the Earth’s relative position and the phases of the Moon in tremendous detail.

The Moon’s Northern Hemisphere

The Moon’s Southern Hemisphere

A virtual tour of the Moon

Have you ever wondered what all those features of our rocky satellite are? Here is a terrific tour of the Moon from NASA:

Blue Marble

One of my favourite views from the Apollo missions is this iconic photograph of our home. It was taken by the Apollo 17 crew on their way to the Moon and it’s titled “Blue Marble”:

The Blue Marble

There is so much more for us to explore in our solar system. At the same time, we know so little about our own planet and have a lot of work to do to preserve it for new generations of explorers.

Header image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, licensed CC BY 2.0

Seeing our planet from the International Space Station

Our planet from the space station
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NASA publishes a large collection of photos and videos of our planet as seen from the International Space Station. They offer a truly spectacular view of our home.

What really stands out, particularly when you watch the videos, is that you don’t see borders and the many differences that divide us. Instead, what you see is the one, beautiful planet that we all share.

A wonderful example of this is astronaut Jeff Williams’ video of the Earth as he passed overhead during a recent visit to the International Space Station. This video, titled “Jeff’s Earth” is mesmerizing on a big HD TV:

This 2012 video titled “Earth Illuminated: ISS Time-lapse Photography” is another wonderful opportunity to see what the astronauts see from the ISS as they orbit the Earth:

It is easy to forget that the Earth is the only home we have and that we share it. Fortunately, photos and videos from organisations like NASA help remind us of what we have in common.

Here are some photos from the NASA Johnson Space Center collection on Flickr:

Featured image credit: NASA Johnson Space Center

One-stop guide to our Solar System

Solar System
I just came across NASA’s terrific one-stop guide to our Solar System and wanted to share it with you quickly. It’s a great quick reference with links to more in-depth materials. Click on the graphic below to get started:

Solar System - the 8 planets

Featured image credit: Kira, 5th Grade, Palm Crest Elementary, La Canada, Calif (17 July 2003) – sourced from NASA.

Better storm prediction by knowing more about raindrops

The GPM satellite studying raindrops
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Did you know that knowing the size of raindrops in clouds can help meteorologists more accurately predict rainfall? A new joint American and Japanese mission promises to help scientists make even more accurate predictions based on the size of the raindrops in clouds. This next video is a great overview of the mission:

According to NASA’s Goddard Media Studios blog post titled “GMS: Why Do Raindrop Sizes Matter In Storms?”:

Not all raindrops are created equal. The size of falling raindrops depends on several factors, including where the cloud producing the drops is located on the globe and where the drops originate in the cloud. For the first time, scientists have three-dimensional snapshots of raindrops and snowflakes around the world from space, thanks to the joint NASA and Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency Global Precipitation Measurement (GPM) mission. With the new global data on raindrop and snowflake sizes this mission provides, scientists can improve rainfall estimates from satellite data and in numerical weather forecast models, helping us better understand and prepare for extreme weather events.

If you are curious about the spacecraft that is conducting this amazing survey work, here is a helpful explanatory diagram:

The GPM spacecraft

Here is a great video that explains how the size of raindrops can help better understand storm behaviour:

A transcript of the video is here.

NASA also published a great comic for kids about the mission titled “Raindrop Tales – GPM Meets Mizu-Chan” which you can download and print or read online.

NASA’s GPM mission site has a wonderful collection of videos, images and other information about the mission. Another great video is this one titled “NASA | GPM: One Year of Storms”:

This is a fascinating mission. I didn’t realise just how much storm prediction can be improved by understanding how big raindrops are.

Voyager craft heading into interstellar space

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My son asked me about space travel and we started talking about the Voyager 1 and 2 probes that were launched in the late 1970s and sent out to the outer planets. Those probes have begun their journey into interstellar space after passing out of our solar system.

NASA’s JPL (Jet Propulsion Labs) has great resources about the Voyager craft and a terrific YouTube playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTiv_XWHnOZq5bv1w9Db2uNJVFiVCkWW5