Tag Archives: Retro-reflecvtor array

5 May 2012: How close was the Moon?

Photo of Super-Moon of 5 May 2012 by Ricardo A. Alvarez

The Moon, our Earth’s only natural satellite, orbits our planet in an elliptical path ranging in distance from 405,000 kilometers at its farthest point [apogee] to 363,000 kilometers, in round numbers, at its closet [perigee].

When a full Moon takes place when our satellite is at its perigee a phenomenon known as Super-Moon occurs, where our satellite appears much brighter and larger than average to the naked eye.

On Saturday 5 May 2012 around 11:30 p.m. EST the Moon entered its full phase while it was at its perigee giving observers on Earth the view of a celestial object that appeared 30% brighter and 14% bigger than other full Moons. In fact, this Super-Moon will be by far the biggest and brightest on all full Moons in 2012.

Having had advanced notice of this Super-Moon event I armed myself with tripod and camera, and taking advantage of wonderful clear skies over southeast Florida I captured the full Moon for my files. Following below are a couple of the photos I took:

Photo of Super-Moon of 5 May 2012 over Southeast Florida by Ricardo A. Alvarez
Image of the 5 May 2012 Super-Moon over Southeast Florida by Ricardo A. Alvarez

It is clear the Moon has not only fascinated humankind since our ancestors first appeared on the Earth, but it has also exerted a profound influence on a wide range of aspects of human activity from religion to mathematics, agriculture to calendars and many more. Beyond these, the physical effects on Earth such as the tides are a daily reminder of the forces generated by the interaction of our planet and its satellite.

The Moon is the only planetary body in the whole universe other than Earth where humans have set foot.I believe many of us remember or are familiar with the words on Neil Armstrong, one of the Apollo 11 astronauts, as he set foot on the surface of the Moon on 20 July 1968. “That’s one small step for man,……one giant leap for mankind” were the first words of Neil Armstrong as he descended from the lunar module and stood of soil that was more than 4 billion years old. What a moment it was! Something to think about as some here on Earth watched the Super-Moon of 5 May 2012.

NASA's Apollo program astronaut exploring large boulders on the lunar surface
A fellow member of humankind riding in one of NASA's Apollo missions left this print on the surface of the Moon

NASA’s Apollo program continued through 1972 both deploying experiments and scientific equipment of the Moon’s surface and bringing back hundreds of pounds of samples of Lunar soil and rocks for study and analysis here on Earth. Several of the Apollo missions deployed continuously improved versions of an apparatus known as a retro-reflector array, on different sites on the Moon’s surface, which are still used to bounce back laser light beamed to the Moon through an Earth-based telescope. It is that laser beam that is sent back to Earth by the retro-reflector array on the Moon that allows us to continuously measure the distance between these two bodies to an accuracy of a millimeter or so.

One of the retro-reflector arrays left of the Moon's surface by NASA's Apollo astronauts to support scientific work measuring the distance between Earth and Moon

Beyond the proven scientific facts fostered by the work of NASA and others on Earth, the Moon has been linked to a wild range of unexplained, esoteric or otherwise non-scientific phenomena including various aspects of human behavior, seismic events, and even the end of the world as we know it. For more on this take a look at the short video that follows: NASA – Supermoon 2012 or visit science.nasa.gov

Image courtesy of NASA showing our Earth rising above the Moon's horizon

While viewing the Super-Moon of 5 May 2012 I couldn’t help but think of what the view of the Earth would have been like at the same moment, We are talking of an observer on the Moon’s surface on 5 May 2012 would have had a great view of a Super-Earth! Our beautiful Blue Planet, spaceship Earth on which humankind sails through space, and which we must protect and defend so that our descendants may also enjoy beautiful Super-Moons hundreds or thousands of years from the present.

Image of Earth as it would be seen from the Moon on a Super-Earth event (courtesy of NASA)
Image (courtesy of NASA) showing a view of Earth's western hemisphere at night and the lights of cities, evidence of human activity