The area’s only planetarium sees stars all year round, but it will join the world in shedding extra light on Earth’s sole satellite and closest celestial body.
Ingram Planetarium in Sunset Beach, N.C., will celebrate the annual International Observe the Moon Night at 7 p.m. Saturday, inside and out. Besides a special show in its Sky Theater dome, including a tribute to astronaut Neil Armstrong, five to 10 telescopes will be set up, weather permitting, for star and moon gazing, with guidance from special guests. They include Tavi Greiner, a photographer, amateur astronomer and co-founder and communications director of Astronomy.FM, an Internet radio station, who will share insight on astrophotography, along with planned visits by astronomy groups from Brunswick Community College in Supply, N.C., and Coastal Carolina University of Conway.
Mark Jankowski, planetarium director, gave a preview for this local observation of the event, chosen by International Observe the Moon Night personnel from around the globe for this harvest moon, the closest full moon to the start of autumn, a lunar bull’s eye for the weekend. He said the planetarium has joined in this annual affair for several years and that Greiner, a resident of Shallotte, N.C., returns regularly to speak and take questions. (Reach her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Question | What are basic tidbits -- ordinary and odd -- about the moon to remember, or for refreshing of our memories from school days?
Answer | One of the coolest facts I found is the that the moon is actually drifting away from Earth one inch a year. It’s about 235,000 miles away from us, on average. ... When the dinosaurs roamed the Earth, the moon would have looked two to three times bigger. The moon slows Earth down, so the days would have been longer in the dinosaurs’ time. Recently, scientists found that a lot of water is stored in the craters, crystal clear water, within the minerals itself. So, it’s very unusual water. If we were to establish a lunar base to live on the moon, we would actually have a very good water to use.
Q. | Do people still talk about seeing a face on the moon?
A. | The “man on the moon” is the dark shadow on the moon. It’s kind of hard to pick out -- it’s hard for me. A long time ago, the Chinese saw a rabbit on the moon, and a lot of cultures saw a creature on the moon. The reason for the rabbit is because it’s a nocturnal animal, and the moon is up at night. The Chinese also thought a dragon was stealing the moon during an eclipse, so they would run out with pots and pans to chase the dragon away. The reason why they thought the moon was being eaten was because of the copper red color it turns during an eclipse.
Q. | What are some obscure or overlooked lunar characteristics?
A. | During a visit to the moon, we always go during a full moon. It also gives off magnetic spheres, which go around the Earth, so you’re safe from solar radiation.
Q. | How long is a moon’s orbit cycle around Earth?
A. | It’s about 29 days; that’s what everybody thinks of.
Q. | How many other moons revolve some other planets in our galaxy?
A. | Mars has two: Phobos and Deimos. ... Jupiter has 40, and Saturn has 35. ... A surprising thing is that every once in a while, an asteroid will get trapped in the Earth’s orbit, so every once in a while, we’ll have two moons. The asteroid is really far out -- nothing that will hit us, five to 10 times farther out than our moon is from us, millions and millions of miles away.
Q. | With the passing Aug. 25 of Armstrong at age 82, whose “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind” on the moon kicked off a whole new era in solar science, where do we go next in lunar exploration?
A. | It’s an ongoing argument, whether it’s best to go to the moon and set up a lunar base and explore more of the solar system, but then you have the difficulties of blasting off from the moon, so it’s kind of a tradeoff: to have a lunar base ... or just do it from Earth. It’s just trying to fund ways to people safely into space again, to pick a destination and get to it. It’s wide open.
Q. | What has kept this fascination with the moon and other worlds festering in humankind’s minds?
A. | It was such a mysterious object, and ... being in a very ancient culture, we didn’t know what that object was when we were passing by it. ... but as we learned more and more, then we visited the moon, it became a great fascination because we had pieces of it to bring back to Earth. So it kind of brought science fiction to life.
Contact STEVE PALISIN at 444-1764.