||Bert Thompson, Ph.D.
Brad Harrub, Ph.D.
Aside from the Sun, it is the first object in space that children learn to identify—the Moon. Due to its proximity to the Earth, we have been able to gather vast amounts of information regarding our neighboring satellite. For instance, we know today that the Moon is 238,896 miles (384,467 kilometers) from the Earth. We know its size, shape, and temperature. And, thanks to brave astronauts, we know the composition of its surface. Plus, having the ability to focus major telescopes on the Moon has allowed us to answer many questions. Yet, strangely, there is still a great deal that we still do not know.
In an admission that has somewhat startled cosmologists, Andrew Lawler and Govert Schilling wrote an article titled “Moon Maintains Its Mysteries” that appeared in the May 2, 2003 issue of Science. Part of the authors’ revelation noted:
Telescopes have been trained on it since Galileo’s day, and dozens of spacecraft have flown by it, orbited around it, and landed on it. And a dozen humans—including one geologist—have walked on the surface and brought back soil and rocks. So the moon must be the best understood of all places beyond Earth, right? Wrong. “That’s an illusion,” says Carlé Pieters, a planetary geologist at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. “We’re doing lunar exploration backwards—we have a wonderful set of samples, but a poor foundation for a global assessment” (2003, 300:727).
The authors went on to confess:
Despite a wealth of data, critical questions remain about the moon’s formation, the massive early impacts on its surface, and its chemical composition. “Thirty-five years after Apollo, our knowledge about the moon is still surprisingly incomplete,” adds Bernard Foing, project scientist for the European Space Agency’s SMART-1 mission to be launched this summer (p. 727).
This startling admission begs the question: If we have such a “poor foundation” of knowledge about the Moon—which is in our own “backyard”—then how can scientists profess to know so much about distant galaxies that lay far beyond the sight of the human eye. The fact that we can see practically every crevasse and mountain range on the lunar surface in fine detail, yet our “knowledge still is surprisingly incomplete,” calls into question how much we really know about other celestial objects—of which we can only see blurred outlines, light spectra, or less.
The next time cosmologists suggest that they have “the answers” concerning questions about various portions of the Universe that we have not even visited (like quasars, galaxies, nebulae, so-called “black holes,” etc.), bear in mind that scientists still have a great deal to learn about even our closest neighbor—which we have visited (on more than one occasion).
Lawler, Andrew and Govert Schilling (2003), “Moon Maintains Its Mysteries,” Science, 300:727, May 2.