Tuesday, September 18, 2007

the far side of the moon

i've had a heck of a transition back to life in the US. The semester proceeds at full force leaving me little time to digest all the changes. i'm enjoying teaching, although i felt a little rusty during the first study session last week. students that take astronomy courses often get angry during the first week or two of classes because they think they will just be memorizing constellations or galaxy names! they dont seem to realize that the astronomy department shares a building with the physics and math departments for a reason! astronomy is physics applied to the universe! as the teaching assistant and not the intimidating professor, i get the wrath of the students who become frustrated at having to use any math what so ever.

i find that they quickly calm down though.... or they drop the class. the point of an introductory astronomy class is not to purposely confuse or frustrate students with a lot of equations and numerical solutions, contrary to what they may believe! it's about training oneself to think about why things are the way they are. look at the following pictures of the moon at different phases and think about what you see. one image was taken each night during one month long orbit as the moon circled around the earth.

on the right side of the moon you notice two dark spots. these two spots are in every image where you can see the right side of the moon. the left side of the moon reveals a pattern that shows up in each image! always the same! but the moon orbits around the earth once every month... so that must mean that the same side of the moon is always facing the earth! contrary to what pink floyd would have you believe, there's no "dark" side of the moon because every side faces the sun as the moon orbits around the earth each month, but there is a "far" side of the moon that we will never see from the surface of the earth as the moon continues along its natural orbit!

i enjoy thinking about these things and seeing the light in the eyes of the students when the *get it*! but its equally as frustrating when some students just *dont get it* even after many explanations. i just have to keep practicing i guess....


Anonymous said...

These are beautiful pictures of the moon. I was wondering if you can explain to me how is it possible that the moon can be cut in half?

barmonger said...


I have borrowed your fantastic Moon picture for a similar post on my blog (or more precisely I have linked to it, I can copy it to my server instead if you wish).

I have linked back to this post so my readers know where the picture is from.