Getting Lunar Science Wrong

It’s not every day that I get to write a blog that essentially “corrects” a story from the Russian News and Information Agency, but today, I thought I would quickly write a note about what is perhaps a simple, yet significant, error.

In a story, titled “Russia to join U.S. lunar exploration program if funded” the author of the story writes “The permanently sunlit half of the Moon opens up good opportunities for electricity generation, and comet ice deposited in craters can be converted into breathable air, drinking water and even liquid rocket propellants.” So what’s the problem with the science here? What had me checking my facts?

I think I will take advantage of the “read more” feature here, and tell you what is “wrong” if you click through! Check and see if you are right! As I read it, I was thinking “hmmm… I don’t think there is a ‘half’ of the Moon that is always sunlit.” So I checked, and the source I found, confirmed what I suspected, there is something special about a “half” of the Moon, but it’s not that it is always sunlit. One side of the moon always faces the Earth, because the Moon’s rotation about it’s axis equals the timing of it’s orbit around the Earth. Of course, as you think about this, if we are always seeing the same side of the moon, and the moon goes through “phases” (New, waxing, Full, and Waning) then certainly that side of the moon is not “always” sunlit. In fact, this actually presents a significant challenge to our future missions to the moon, because our astronauts (and now possibly cosmonauts) will spend approximately 14 days in the freezing “night” of the moon.

So how did they get this wrong? Well perhaps they are Pink Floyd fans. I am sure everyone knows their song “Dark Side of the Moon.” Well, that get’s addressed on Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy site. He concludes ” The Pink Floyd album may be one of the best selling albums of all time, but astronomically it’s in eclipse.”

Side Note: Apparently the Pink Floydians had a NASA Apollo 11 film and hadn’t returned it. I wonder if the Smithsonian charges overdue fees?