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The Moon is Where?? Well, I Would Have Lost That Bet...

..My kids started noticing the moon in the sky almost before they could speak. "Da mooo! Da mooo!!" they would yell out of nowhere, pointing a tiny finger up, wide-eyed. As much as I love thinking and wondering about space and what in the actualhell (made up word) is going on out there, I love seeing my kids light up over it EVEN MORE. But there is something wild about looking at the Moon, isn't there!? Like… it doesn't get old. Sometimes it’s full, sometimes it's a tiny fingernail sliver, sometimes on a clear night you can see the shadowy portion as if it’s giving you a special behind-stage view, sometimes it's behind some misty clouds and all the werewolves come out. Sometimes you see it during the day. It might be here, it might be there, but however you find the moon, it always seems to bring some measure of surprise. For something we can see almost everyday, I can't think of another common object that brings that feeling.

But what's the deal between the Moon and the Earth? I've known for a long time that the Moon was a satellite of the Earth, which is to say, it's just an object that is caught in orbit around Earth by gravity. And maybe it was all the graphics and simulations I've seen in my life, but I always had an image in my head of what Earth and the Moon look like in relation to each other. In my mind, Earth was x size and the Moon was y smaller size and they were about z distant apart. I think everyone must have their own image in their head too. Spoiler alert... I bet your image is wrong.

Let's break this image down to a more familiar scale. If Earth was the size of a NBA basketball, how big would you say the moon is and how far away is it?

Well, I suppose I never thought long and hard about it, but I guess I always thought it was something like this:

Or maybe if I thought a bit harder about it, knowing the Moon is one sixth the mass of Earth, I might realize the Moon is even smaller comparatively. Eventually, I probably would get to an image something like this:

What I don't think I ever would have thought is that, given a basketball-sized Earth scale, the Moon and its distance from us actually looks like this:

A tennis ball 23.5 feet away!!?? A 3-pointer!?? And look how TINY it is! Zoom in on that badboy! How does it even stay in orbit?? Like really, how can such a small object be gravitationally bound to another tiny, albeit slightly larger, object? But that's the true scale. I would have lost a bet on that.

When I learned this, however, it opened my mind a bit to the nature of gravity, particularly on objects in space. First of all, everything in space is waaaaayy more spread out than I had imagined. Secondly, when friction is negligible, as it is in space, just a tiny bit of gravity can go a long way. Small forces can have significant effects given huge amounts of space and huge amounts of time.

Ok, Hard Chargers! I hope this first note either gave you something interesting to think about or, even better, raised some questions of your own!



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