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Under The Martinborough Stars

August 21, 2019 August 2019, Regular Features No Comments

Photo courtesy ChristyToms Photography.

By Becky Bateman

“…That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind…”

I don’t know about you, but these words still give me the chills. 50 years ago, on July the 20th 1969, Man first stepped onto another world. Incredible!

400,000 people were behind the successful Moon landings; although we often only remember the achievement of the astronauts that actually left the Earth. Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins took 4 days to travel the 385,000km to the Moon in Apollo 11 and the landing craft Eagle that descended to the Moon and took the men into the history books.

I always love looking at the Moon, and I encourage you also to look up at our nearest celestial neighbour. It’s a relatively odd moon compared to our other planetary neighbours as our Moon is thought to be made out of the same stuff as the Earth. The theory is a giant rock roughly the size of Mars called Theia collided with the molten Earth billions of years ago, ripping off a huge chunk which then, eventually, coalesced into the Moon. 

Without the Moon, we wouldn’t have tides, solar eclipses or even a 24 hour day. The Moon has slowed our days down from a speedy 6-12 hour rotation; there would have more than a thousand days in one year!

As I explained in last month’s article, most calendars are based on the phases of the Moon and its monthly cycle. Now imagine no Moon, how would we measure monthly changes? Our sky would be much darker; Venus is the next brightest object after the Moon but even that is at least 2000 times less bright in comparison.

The astronauts brought back many objects from the Moon and recently it was discovered that water ice has been found in some deep craters. Water can be split into Hydrogen and Oxygen; basically, rocket fuel.

Now think back about Eagle and Apollo 11 and why it was such an important trip. The Moon is our stepping stone into the rest of the Solar System. It’s a relatively short hop to the Moon but the next nearest planets, Mars or Venus, would mean a longer journey. A one-way trip to Mars takes between 6 to 9 months, a return trip would be over a year and many minutes delay in communication. The Moon is an ideal first stop which is why so many countries are still exploring it and are planning to go back.

The Moon landing was a huge step in scientific and space exploration. Today, we are facing similar challenges, and so it is good to remember the famous quote by JFK in 1959. Humans, when we are pushed to do extraordinarily difficult things, find extraordinary ways to succeed.

“…We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard….”  JFK

Becky runs the nomadic Wairarapa stargazing service Under The Stars

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