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

The Biodiversity Heritage Library

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The Biodiversity Heritage Library has a wonderful collection of resources about our shared biodiversity online. What is “biodiversity”? Wikipedia explains it as follows:

Biodiversity, a contraction of “biological diversity,” generally refers to the variety and variability of life on Earth. One of the most widely used definitions defines it in terms of the variability within species, between species and between ecosystems. It is a measure of the variety of organisms present in different ecosystems.

The goal of the Biodiversity Heritage Library is to improve “research methodology by collaboratively making biodiversity literature openly available to the world as part of a global biodiversity community”.

A Sperm Whale

It is a remarkable resource, especially for school projects and for all you science geeks. One of the best parts of the Library is its extensive Flickr collection which has an enormous collection of scans and imagery.

The Library “serves as the foundational literature component of the Encyclopedia of Life” which you can find here. What is the Encyclopedia of Life?

Our knowledge of the many life-forms on Earth – of animals, plants, fungi, protists and bacteria – is scattered around the world in books, journals, databases, websites, specimen collections, and in the minds of people everywhere. Imagine what it would mean if this information could be gathered together and made available to everyone – anywhere – at a moment’s notice.

Its mission:

To increase awareness and understanding of living nature through an Encyclopedia of Life that gathers, generates, and shares knowledge in an open, freely accessible and trusted digital resource.

Between the Library and the EOL, these are wonderful biodiversity resources. Definitely worth bookmarking for all those school projects and personal exploration. I’ve added both sites to our Sources page.

Image credit: Biodiversity Heritage Library

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

Will a bowling ball fall faster than a feather?

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If you dropped a feather and a bowling ball at the same time, which would hit the ground first? You would probably say that the bowling ball would hit the ground first, right? After all, a bowling ball is so much heavier.

It turns out that the relative weight of the objects doesn’t make a difference to which object will hit the ground first, as strange as that may sound.

One of the parents in our class chat group shared this terrific video from the BBC that explains what really makes a difference and, surprisingly, that a bowling ball and a feather will hit the ground at the same time under the right conditions:

So, as you can see, the factor that makes the difference in normal conditions isn’t the objects’ weight, it’s air resistance! When you remove the air, both objects fall at the same rate and hit the ground at the same time.

Image credit: Pixabay

What happens when lightning strikes an airplane?

This morning our daughter asked me what happens when lightning strikes an airplane. She is a little afraid of storms and she was concerned about the passengers of airplanes when there are lightning strikes.

Understanding lightning better

Lightning is, at the same time, an awesome and terrifying phenomenon. It seems to affect us on a very primal level. Understanding it better helps us appreciate its awesome beauty while making sure we are safer during lightning storms. I found a great video from SciShow Kids about lightning:

National Geographic also has a great video that explains lightning:

Lightning moves pretty quickly so we don’t always see lightning in more detail. I found this terrific video on Wikipedia (your browser may not play the video if it doesn’t support .ogv formats).

So what happens when lightning strikes an airplane?

The prospect of lightning striking an airplane can be scary. I was fascinated to learn that planes are engineered to handle lightning strikes in an interesting way. Here is a video from the Smithsonian Channel:

If you are interested in reading more about how airplanes are engineered to withstand lightning strikes, also read an article on Scientific American titled “What happens when lightning strikes an airplane?”. Here is an extract from the Scientific American article that answer my daughter’s questions about passengers’ experience of a lightning strike:

Although passengers and crew may see a flash and hear a loud noise if lightning strikes their plane, nothing serious should happen because of the careful lightning protection engineered into the aircraft and its sensitive components. Initially, the lightning will attach to an extremity such as the nose or wing tip. The airplane then flies through the lightning flash, which reattaches itself to the fuselage at other locations while the airplane is in the electric “circuit” between the cloud regions of opposite polarity. The current will travel through the conductive exterior skin and structures of the aircraft and exit off some other extremity, such as the tail. Pilots occasionally report temporary flickering of lights or short-lived interference with instruments.

Thunderstorms are impressive and powerful natural phenomenon and it’s usually a good idea to keep your distance, regardless of your mode of travel. At the same time, it is good to know what even when you are suspended in the air, traveling through a storm, you are probably safe.

Featured image credit: Pixabay