The Moon – Astronomy – Physics

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Earth's moon (about 239,000 miles from Earth) (That's almost ten times as far as going all the way around the Earth)

Earth’s moon (about 239,000 miles from Earth) (That’s almost ten times as far as going all the way around the Earth)

Nobody knows exactly how the moon formed, but this is one possibility. After the planet Earth formed (along with the other planets), about four and a half billion years ago, during the Hadean Eon, there were still a lot of leftover bits of rock going around the Sun. These leftover rocks were not part of any planet. One especially big chunk of rock smashed into the Earth. Most of it stuck and became part of the Earth, but some bits splashed off the Earth. Earth’s gravity caught some of these rocks and they started to orbit around the Earth.

About 45 million years after the Earth formed, many of these orbiting rocks stuck together to become the moon. Other planets often have moons too, though they didn’t all form in exactly the same way.

At first, the moon was probably much closer to Earth. Probably it spun around much faster than it does now. Earth’s gravity, pulling on the moon, has gradually slowed it down. So now the same side of the moon is always facing the Earth. All the moons on the other planets do this too.

A man in a spacesuit walks on the moon

A man in a spacesuit walks on the moon

The oldest rocks on the moon are about as old as the oldest rocks on Earth. That’s because the Earth and the moon cooled down at about the same time. Like the Earth’s rocks, most of the rocks on the moon’s surface are made of silica – a combination of silicon and oxygen atoms. The moon’s surface is about 60 miles thick on the side away from us. It’s about 100 miles thick on the side towards us. That’s because the Earth’s gravity has pulled more of the crust to our side of the moon.

Inside the moon, it is hot, but not as hot as Earth. The moon is much smaller and cooled off faster than Earth. It’s not hot enough anymore for tectonic plates to shift around as they do on Earth. The core of the moon, like Earth’s core, is probably made mainly of iron.

On the surface of the moon, it’s like a rocky desert. The sky looks all black. That’s because there is no atmosphere to reflect the sunlight and make it seem blue. The moon is so small, it hasn’t got enough gravity to hold on to very many light molecules like oxygen or hydrogen. The oxygen and hydrogen just float off into space.

The moon circles around the Earth just as the Earth circles around the sun, because of centrifugal force and gravity. The moon doesn’t have any light of its own. It’s just a ball of rock. We see the moon shining because the moon reflects the light of the sun. Depending on where the moon is and where the sun is, and where you are on the Earth, you may be able to see all of the side of the moon that’s lit up by the sun. We call that a full moon. Or you might only be able to see a tiny sliver of the part of the moon that’s lit up by the sun. We call that a new moon.

As the moon goes around the earth, we cycle between new moons and full moons every month. It takes about a month for the moon to get all the way around the earth. That takes us from one full moon to the next full moon. That’s why we call it a month. The word “month” comes from the word  “moon”. Here’s a short video showing how this works (the big ball in the middle is the Sun, the colored ball is the Earth, and the tiny ball going around the Earth is the Moon):

When the earth gets between the moon and the sun, the earth’s shadow falls on the moon. The earth’s shadow that blocks the sun’s light from reaching the moon and creates an eclipse of the moon. On the other hand, when the moon gets between the earth and the sun, that’s an eclipse of the sun.

Learn by doing – the moon
Heng O, the Chinese Moon Goddess
Chandra, the Indian Moon Goddess
Artemis, the Greek Moon Goddess
Greek astronomers and the Moon

Bibliography and further reading about planets:

Earth
Sun
Planets
Physics
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By | 2017-08-19T01:10:14+00:00 August 19th, 2017|Physics|0 Comments
Cite this page: Carr, K.E. The Moon – Astronomy – Physics. Quatr.us Study Guides, August 19, 2017. Web. December 13, 2017.

About the Author:

Karen Carr

Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.

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