Daniel Discovers the Moon


I could hear the theatrical sigh all the way upstairs in my office.  A moment later, Daniel knocked on my door.  I was surprised.  I wouldn’t have believed a knock could actually sound exasperated.

I was wrong.

“You won’t believe what we have to do for school,” he said.  “We have to look at the moon.”  He looked at me for reaction and seemed to be annoyed I wasn’t sharing his sense of outrage.  We have looked at the moon through our small telescope.  We’ve watched documentaries on television about the Apollo missions.  I thought it would be right up his alley.

“But we can’t use a telescope,” he said.  “We can’t look it up on the Internet or anything.  We’re supposed to just look.”  I got another sigh that belied the weight of the world on his fifth grade shoulders.  “How can I find out anything about the moon just by looking at it with my eyes?”

It occurred to me this was a case of too much information.  We’ve trained telescopes on the moon for four hundred years.  We’ve sent spacecraft past it.  A dozen men have walked on it.  When you can go to a museum and inspect a piece of the moon up close, what can you discover with a standard set of eyeballs from a quarter million miles away?

“Why don’t we try to forget everything we know about the moon and see what we can figure out for ourselves?” I said.  “I bet we can figure out ten things about the moon on our own.”

So far, we’ve determined the moon rises later every night as it goes from a crescent to a full moon.  It moves quite a lot compared to the stars.  The moon seems to move about ten moon-diameters east every day.  The stars have moved slightly in the past couple of weeks, but nowhere near as fast as the moon.  We figured that meant the stars were farther away than the moon.  We also figured out the clouds are closer than the moon.  A number of nights, clouds prevented us from seeing the moon.  However, we’ve never seen any clouds covered up by the moon.

“It’s funny we were able to think of something when we didn’t see it,” said Daniel.

We also figured out the moon always faces the same way towards us.  It was possible the moon was rotating once a day and we just happened to be catching it at the same time every night.  However, last Saturday we switched to Daylight Savings Time, so while we were still looking at the moon at 8:30 on Sunday night, it was like we were looking at it at 7:30 Saturday night.  And it looked the same every time.

Since the spots on the moon always looked the same to us, we determined they weren’t clouds.  Clouds on Earth move and change shape.  And since there are no clouds on the moon, there probably wasn’t any rain or snow either.  That meant the spots probably weren’t lakes or oceans.  Daniel thought they might be “bumps”.  He noticed the edge of the moon – where sunlight meets darkness – didn’t seem to be completely straight.  I couldn’t tell for sure, but gave Daniel the benefit of the doubt since his eyes are thirty years younger than mine.

I’m not sure if all this adds up to ten things about the moon or not.  We’ve only been at it for a couple of weeks.  In any case, none of our discoveries are – pardon the phrase – Earth shattering.  But it made us think about the people who looked and sat and thought about the moon when they didn’t have all the modern conveniences we have now.  And considering how much we could figure out just by looking at the moon for a few extra minutes every night, it makes me wonder how much more we might be able to see around us if only we look a little harder than normal.

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