Day 988: That’s No Moon…

originally published September 14, 2014

With only a dozen days remaining of my self-imposed sentence in this asylum of perpetual prose, I am scootching toward the realization that there are some topics I will never get to. The hidden subtext within the dialogue of each Misfits of Science episode will remain unexplored, and I’m afraid the sacred ghost notes that elevate the percussive harrumph of Led Zeppelin’s “Fool In The Rain” and Toto’s “Rosanna” will fail to make the kilograph cut.

Instead I must devote these dog-yawn final days to loftier, more resonant subjects – yesterday’s investigation into Mozart’s poop jokes notwithstanding. And so I look to the moon – that luminous gob of celestial spittle, that pearlesque voyeur who knows all of our funkiest sins, the swiveling muse of the incurable drunkard. The moon pours elbow grease on our tides and provides an alibi when we need one for our meandering sanity. And before we had the cognitive wherewithal to stack our chips on science, the moon provided the palette for some of our strangest superstitions.

The moon puts on a nightly spectacle; what earth-bound broadcast can compare to the thrill of a clump of rock bigger than our entire continent dangling in the air over our heads? And even with Neil Armstrong’s size 9½ prints on her cheeks, she still retains an exotic air of mystery.

Before Georges Méliès stabbed it with a wayward rocket ship, the man in the moon had a starring role in olde-timey mythology. In the biblical Book of Numbers, one of the more cynical stories tells of a man who was sentenced by God to death by stoning for the heinous crime of gathering sticks on the Sabbath. Early Christian lore suggested that the man in the moon was that very man. Another tradition claims the man is Abel’s blood-bro Cain, forever doomed to circle the Earth.

Though it’s not explicitly scribed in the Torah, there exists a Jewish tale that Mr. Moon is Jacob, the third patriarch of the Hebrew folk, who glares at us from the lunar surface. In the mythology of the Pacific Northwest indigenous Haida tribe, the man in the moon is in fact a boy who mocked the moon to get out of the chore of gathering sticks. The boy was subsequently banished up there, leaving us to wonder why so many lunar myths involve stick-gathering.

If you tickle the fringes of your imagination, you can actually discern a legitimate face in the bulbous full moon, its features chiseled by the geography of the lunar seas. These ‘seas’ are the lunar maria – wide basaltic plains made up of chilled lava from ancient volcanic eruptions, but to the untrained eyes of old they looked like gigantic bodies of moon-water, which subsequently looked like face parts. The Sea of Showers (Mare Imbrium) and Sea of Serenity (Mare Serenitatis) make up the eyes, the Bay of Billows (Sinus Aestuum) is the nose, while the Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium) and the Sea That Has Become Known (Mare Cognitum) create the mouth.

As you can no doubt deduce from the above photograph, plucking these lunar features into a facial context fails to deliver a thunderous boom of eureka. The moon-man’s face is as vague and unimpressive as anyone’s interpretations of cloud clusters or toast-borne Jesus faces. But it’s precisely this wispy bag of squint-induced reasoning that earned the moon the title of God of Drunkards throughout the English Middle Ages and the Renaissance.

Then there’s the Moon Rabbit. If we’re locking our gaze upon the charcoal craters and chalky pockmarks of the moon’s surface, we’ve got to pay some attention to the Moon Rabbit.

Pareidolia is the catch-all word for the phenomenon of deducing shapes and patterns that aren’t there, whether you’re looking at inkblots, wall stains or the lunar surface. In East Asian folklore, as well as in Aztec mythology, pareidolia has invited forth the perception of a lunar rabbit. In Japan and Korea, the moon-bunny is pounding the ingredients to a rice cake, using a mortar and pestle. The Chinese believed the rabbit to be formulating the elixir of life.

Mexican legend explains the space-bunny as a result of the god Quetzalcoatl, who was wandering about all hungry and tired when a kindly rabbit offered itself as a meal to keep the god rolling onward. Quetzalcoatl was so grateful, he raised the rabbit to the moon then lowered it back to earth, leaving the rabbit image for all to see. Then, presumably, he ate the thing, because dammit, a dude’s gotta eat.

Of course we all know the moon’s surface is just a series of rock formations and crater footprints. It’s what’s inside that counts.

The moon, as I’m sure you are aware, is not hollow. Actually, I’m not sure you are aware of this. The concept of a hollow moon is not based upon an antiquated adherence to some obvious piece of campfire folklore, but an actual belief that some people still cling to. The moon’s density is a paltry 3.34 g/cm3, compared to the robust 5.5 of Earth. Also, some of those craters are too shallow to make sense – the wide ones should be considerably deeper. Or so say the true believers.

It may make for a great prelude to a sci-fi spectacular, but the truth is that the moon is most definitely not hollow. We have taken seismic readings of the thing, and we know with a fair amount of scientific chest-thumpery that the moon is a thin crust, a big-ass mantle, with a tiny molten core keeping it toasty on the inside. It’s highly unlikely that any mass of space-rock would develop naturally hollow innards, like some cheap drug store chocolate Easter bunny. Unless…

Two members of the Soviet Academy of Sciences demonstrated just how far behind the USSR really fell in the Space Race by 1970. Michael Vasin and Alexander Shcherbakov legitimately proposed that a race of hyper-advanced aliens concocted this planetoid device, then plopped it into an orbit around our little planet. They also point to the relatively shallow craters, insisting it could be a strong hull preventing them from being any deeper. They estimate the hull to be about 20 miles thick, with a hollowed out living quarters inside.

Of all the crappy assignments in the universe, I think a post on the Lunar Observ-o-Station would be the most mundane for these poor aliens, at least until humans started planting our boot-heels upon its surface. The Soviet authors have also brought forward the ‘evidence’ that the moon’s surface is composed of different chemicals than Earth’s, and that some of the moon rocks are older than the oldest rocks on our planet.

It’s a funny little theory, but once again we are pricking the goofiness with the big ol’ pin of science. In addition to the seismic evidence, we have proven the moon is solid through moment of inertia parameters (way too sciencey for me to figure out right now) and by studying the moon’s gravitational field. There are no little green dudes and dudettes hiding inside our little celestial companion.

That’s okay – it’s fun to speculate about the moon. “If you want to write a song about the moon,” Paul Simon once told us, “you want to write a spiritual tune.” Why not? If there is magic in the universe, why not believe its inertia can be kicked into motion by the humble glory of the moon?

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