The Moon has been a source of fascination and curiosity throughout history. It’s the biggest and brightest object in the night sky. It influences life here on earth from the tides, a woman’s fertility cycle to our own changeable emotional nature. The Moon is the only natural satellite of the earth. It is also the only celestial body on which humans have landed.
The Moon has been known since prehistoric times. In past civilizations the Moon was regarded as a deity. The Romans believed that the Moon was Luna, the goddess of the Moon. The Greeks called the Moon Selene or Artemis who was the daughter of Zeus. Ancient lore and legend tell of the power of the Moon to instill spells with magic, to transform humans into beasts and to send people to the brink of insanity. Lunacy is derived from the Latin, Luna, meaning Moon.
In the past some people even believed that the Moon was made of green cheese. This notion was originally formulated as a proverb or a metaphor. This refers to the perception of a simpleton who sees a reflection of the Moon in water and mistakes it for a round cheese wheel. It is widespread as a folkloric myth among many of the world’s cultures, and the notion has also found its way into both children’s tales folklore and modern popular culture. The phrase green cheese in this proverb simply refers to a young cheese, like cream cheese, though modern people may interpret the color reference literally.
In 1835, the Great Moon Hoax fooled some people into thinking that scientists discovered life on the surface of the Moon along with the possibility of an existing civilization. Six separate articles that were published in The Sun, a New York newspaper, and falsely attributed to the best know astronomer at that time, John Herschel, attested to this. By the way, Herschel was the man who discovered the planet Uranus in 1781.
During the 30’s and 40’s in Germany, the Nazi leaders promoted a theory that because of the brightness and roughness of the Moon’s surface it was made out of ice. After World War II, rumors circulated that German astronauts had traveled to the moon and established a top-secret facility there. Some even speculated that Adolf Hitler faked his own death, fled the planet and lived out the rest of his days in an underground lunar hideout.
The person who initially got a real handle on the Moon and what it was all about was Galileo. In 1609 he was the first to use his invention, the telescope, and view the Moon. He was the first to make drawings of the phases of the Moon. Galileo was also the first to discover that the surface of the Moon was rough, not smooth as previously thought.
It is Interesting to note that the far side of the Moon remained completely unknown to man until the Luna 3 probe. The Luna 3, an automatic interplanetary station, was the third spacecraft successfully launched to the Moon and the first to return images of the far side. It was later extensively mapped by the Lunar Orbiter program in the 1960’s.
How did the Moon get there? There are a number of different theories as to how the Moon was formed. One theory is the Fission Theory. This was first suggested by G.H. Darwin, Charles Darwin’s son. He proposed that early in the development of the Earth, the Moon spun off from the earth’s mantle. Another theory is the Capture Theory. This one suggests that moon formed somewhere else in our solar system and was captured into the orbit of the earth. There is one theory which widely accepted today. That is the Giant Impactor Theory. This theory proposes that a small planet, about the size of Mars impacted the Earth right after the formation of our solar system, scattering out large amounts of heated material from both objects. This material eventually stuck together and started orbiting the Earth.
The Moon rotates around the Earth in a slightly eccentric orbit at about 2300 miles an hour. When it is closest to the Earth it is called perigee. When it is farthest it is known as apogee. In addition to its relative nearness to Earth, the Moon is a relatively massive compared to our planet. This ratio is much larger than those of other natural satellites to the planets they orbit. Because of this the Earth and the Moon have a great influence on each other. Although the Moon is accurately described as orbiting the Earth, it is even more accurate to say that the two bodies orbit each other around a common mass.
One of the more interesting aspects of the Moon is how it figures in the phenomena of eclipses. There are two types of eclipses, the Lunar Eclipse and the Solar Eclipse. A Lunar Eclipse is when the Earth blots out the Sun’s light to the Moon, causing the Moon to pass through the Earth’s shadow. A Solar Eclipse occurs when the Moon blots out part of the Sun’s light to the Earth. An eclipse was especially terrifying to the common man of ancient times who did not understand them. A good example of this is that during a battle in 585 B.C. in what is now present-day Turkey a Solar Eclipsed occurred. Soldiers from the two opposing armies, the Medians and Lydian’s, where shocked by the eclipse. So much so that they believed that their gods much be opposed to the war. They put their weapons down forcing their leaders to declare peace.
Pivotal to the Moon’s influence to us here on Earth is that it is an important factor in the timing of planting, cultivating and harvesting farm crops. In ancient times the most reliable source of telling the time was the Sun and the Moon. As information was passed down through generations, it was noticed that different plants grow better when they are planted during different phases of the Moon. Each of these phases imparts an influence on the way vegetation grows on our planet through the rising and falling of the moisture in the ground and in the plants, just as the tides are affected by the Mon. To provide even more accurate records, it was noted that certain crops did better when planted while the Moon was in a specific constellation, or sign of the zodiac. Since the Moon only stays in one sign for only 2-3 days, the planting calendar was a on the cutting edge of the days technology. Now farmers know that the Moon controls crop growth. That is why things like the Farmer’s Almanac are so highly valued.
In astrology, the Moon moves faster than any of the other celestial objects, as it waxes and wanes throughout the zodiac. The Moon goes through all 12 of the signs spending an average of 2.5 days in each sign. The cycle begins with the New Moon, culminates two weeks later at the time of the Full Moon and reaches completion at month’s end with the arrival of the next New Moon. The Moon sets the emotional tone as it transits through the signs of the zodiac. It changes signs every two and a half days. Knowing what sign the Moon is currently in gives us the opportunity to work with the energies and go with the flow of the Moon. We can use it to know the general feeling of what to expect.
Two terms that are often used when talking about the Moon are the Blue Moon and the Black Moon. The first one, the Blue Moon, is when we have two Full Moons in a calendar month. The second Full Moon is referred to as a Blue Moon. Hence a Blue Moon is also used as a metaphor for an impossible or rare event – once in a Blue Moon. Now a Black Moon has several meanings. When we experience a New Moon, the Moon is invisible in the sky. That is because the Earth is blocking the rays of the Sun that give the Moon its illumination. Anyway, the first is when there are no Full Moons in a calendar month. The other is when there is a second New Moon within the calendar month.
It is a little wonder that throughout history man has been fascinated with the Moon. It has been a wonder and a mystery and continues to be.