Traveling to 'the Dark Side'

The dark side of the moon has captured imaginations since we first stepped foot there over 40 years ago. From Pink Floyd to the recent Transformers movie, popular culture has theorized what is on the side of the moon that is in perpetual darkness. So, what is the dark side of the moon? Are there really alien robots on the other half of the moon, or have we shed a little more light on the subject?

Well, it turns out that there actually isn’t a “dark side.” Like the Earth, the moon has both a day and a night. It is better to say that the moon has a “day side” and a “night side” than a “dark side.” Sometimes, the side facing the Earth is the day side, and other times it is the night side: this is why we observe moon phases.  Both sides of the moon receive sunlight.


Caption: Phases of the moon.


The reason it seems that only half of the moon receives sunlight is because the Earth only views half of the moon. It is more accurate to say that the moon has a near side and a far side. The near side is always facing Earth and the far side is always facing away, because the moon revolves around the Earth at the same rate that it rotates on its own axis. It takes 29 days for the moon to rotate around its axis, and it also takes 29 days for the moon to orbit around the Earth. If the moon did not rotate, or if it orbited slower around the Earth, then we would be able to see the other side of the moon, but because these rotations happen at the same rate we always see the same side. This term is known as synchronous rotation.


Caption: Synchronous rotation.
Credit: Wikipedia

While only one side of the moon faces Earth, we still have an idea of what the far side looks like thanks to NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera, or LROC, Wide Angle Camera, or WAC. The LROC was the first space craft to take high resolution photos of the far side of the moon last March, finally giving scientists a complete picture of the moon.


Caption: The lunar far side, seen by the LROC WAC.
Credit: NASA/Goddard/Arizona State University

There may not be aliens on the far side of the moon, but there are still many questions about it that we are still in the dark about, like why does the crust appear thicker on the far side? As NASA continues to explore the far side of the moon, people will no doubt continue to be fascinated by the “dark” side and continue to look for answers to illuminate its mystery.

8 thoughts on “Traveling to 'the Dark Side'”

  1. I’ve always been amazed by the moon and its energy. We know how important our moon is to maintaining balance here on earth, regulating our tides. Somehow the moon reminds me of the interconnectedness of everything in our universe…terrestrial and extraterrestrial. The moon is as fundamental a part of human existence as the sun…everything would be completely different without it! The theories surrounding the moon’s birth are varied, but we do know that the moon and the Earth are very similar in many ways. Perhaps our moon is just a big chunk of Earth that split from our planet millions of years ago, perhaps it was a separate planet all together that collided with our Earth and became our moon. Who knows? We do know that we share an intimate relationship with this celestial body and that its synchronous rotation around our Earth only make the moon that more interesting and mysterious. Good Article!

  2. I had hoped that the transformers movie (dark of the moon) would take the opportunity to teach the studio a little science, while they were at it boring me for nearly 3 hours lol. Real physics (i’m a physicist) is often much more fun than the fantasy sci fi films often spew anyway…

  3. The moon’s wonder and awesomeness still chills me, despite having studied the stars for over a decade in school. Just the other weekend, before we took the kids to go see the movie transformers, my wife asked me why the moon shines. I was amazed that she thought it shone using its own energy, instead of reflecting the sun’s light…

  4. Ive seen airbrushed photos of the far side of the moon, which are believed to be ancient structures blurred out, why has this been done, why does something such as this need to be kept secret from the public? How do you think we are gonna react, to know the truth would be exciting,fascinating, and I do actually believe the astronauts who visited that part of the moon saw something down there, ive heard the audio that was censored. Ufos,their real,and you know it,the governments been in contact with an alien species for about 50years,the aliens just think we’re too primitive and desructive,and they just need are planet for some purpose? NASA! Love the work on research and travelling to other worlds! But dont you think its time the world knows the truth about these other things, come on! We are in a new age,its the 21st century. Luvs ya! Peace!

Comments are closed.