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Moon Talk
By Laura G. Smith

1     It's the Earth's only natural satellite-a glowing globe that appears in the night sky capturing the attention of all who gaze in its direction. Although the Earth's moon seems to be "shining" its own light, it is really reflecting light from the sun. Some nights the moon looks like a huge, round, shiny ball, and other nights it appears as just a thin sliver of light. Although the moon seems to be changing shapes, it really isn't. It just looks different because it is reflecting varying amounts of sunlight during each of its phases.
2     The phases are caused by the continuous movement of the Earth and its moon. The Earth is constantly "revolving" or traveling in an oval shape around the sun. The path it travels is referred to as its orbit. As the Earth is orbiting the sun, the moon is orbiting the Earth. The moon moves at an amazing average speed of about 2,300 miles per hour! As the Earth and moon revolve, different amounts of sunlight are reflected to the Earth, causing the moon to change in appearance (ranging from a "new moon" to a waning crescent").
3     It takes the moon one month to travel one time around the Earth passing through a complete cycle of its phases. In ancient times, before calendars were used, people looked at the phases of the moon to measure weeks and months. They knew that four weeks passed between one full moon and the next.
4     Sometimes, as the moon circles the Earth, it passes directly between the Earth and the sun. This causes a solar eclipse, which blocks our view of the sun for a short while. Another type of eclipse is a lunar eclipse. This occurs when the Earth passes directly between the sun and the moon briefly blocking out the moon. Before scientists were able to learn what causes eclipses, people were frightened by them and feared the world was coming to an end!
5     An Italian astronomer named Galileo made great discoveries about the moon after he built his first telescope in 1609. Although he didn't actually invent the telescope, he developed and improved it. He was the first to realize that the moon's surface was mountainous and pitted, not smooth as others once thought. The deep pits, commonly known as craters, are the most numerous features of the moon's surface. The smaller craters were formed when meteoroids (solid objects traveling through space) collided with the moon. Scientists estimate that the moon has half a million craters that are more than one mile wide. These huge pits were more than likely caused by larger bodies such as comets or asteroids. Although the moon's mountains and pits are somewhat similar to features found on the surface of the Earth, other characteristics of the moon are quite different from our home planet.
6     For instance, the moon has little or no atmosphere. It has no clouds, no rain, and no wind. The surface of the moon has remained basically unchanged throughout the course of its history because it is not exposed to the many types of weather that we experience living on Earth. Because the moon has no air or water, it cannot support any forms of life such as plants, animals, or humans.
7     Temperatures on the rocky surface of the moon get much hotter and colder than any place on the Earth. At the moon's equator, temperatures reach as high as 260F and as low as -280 F. In some of the moon's deepest craters, the temperature stays near -400F! Earth, on the other hand, has a protective blanket of invisible insulation - the atmosphere - which protects it from such extreme temperature changes.
8     Since the moon is closer to the Earth than any of the other planets or stars, it appears to be much larger than the other objects, but it really isn't. The moon's diameter (or distance across the middle) measures about 2,160 miles and is about one-fourth that of the Earth. If you held your fist next to your head, it would give you an idea of the size of the moon compared to the size of the Earth. If the moon were placed on top of the United States, it would extend almost from San Francisco to Cleveland.
9     The force of gravity on the moon's surface is six times weaker than that on the surface of the Earth. Gravity is weaker on the moon because the moon's mass (the amount of matter a body contains) is about 81 times smaller than the Earth's mass. The gravitational pull on the moon is strong enough to cause the rise and fall of tides on the Earth's surface, but it's not strong enough to hold air close to the moon's surface. A boy or girl who weighs 60 pounds on the Earth would weigh only 10 pounds on the moon. The Earth has a much greater gravitational pull that is strong enough to keep us from floating around in the sky, and it also keeps the moon in orbit around the Earth.

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