Darkside of the Moon – or of American Society?

There is no Darkside for the moon, but maybe there is for American understanding of science.

Kenneth Chang, a respected science writer for the New York Times has an article in the 2012 Dec 14 issue called “Two Space Probes to Crash, Intentionally, on Dark Side of Moon“.  Mr. Chang has written many fine articles but this one pushes the reader into the thinking of 13th century Europe.   I though maybe that this was the product medieval minded headline writer, but the phrase is repeated in the body of the story.

There is no permanent “darkside” to the moon, just darkness that sweeps around it as night sweeps around the spinning Earth.  Click the image below for better view

Lunar nearside (facing Earth) and farside (away from Earth)

Fig 1: Lunar nearside (always facing Earth) and farside (always away from Earth)

The story is actually about the planned crashes of NASA’s GRAIL lunar orbiters. The GRAIL craft orbited in formation and produced the highest resolution maps of lunar mass concentrations ever made (decades ago, these features were called called “masscons”). Fig. 1 is made from composite images by the Clementine Lunar orbiter (1994).

Perhaps Mr Chang was writing cutesy style so that grade school children do not have to strain to comprehend such complex ideas as a rotating moon?   But I have heard 7 year olds explain why a quarter moon is only half illuminated.  True, the rest of his article appears to be aimed at a target audience who think astrologers are science types who read tarot cards to tell them about the future, life and everything.


Fig 2: Moon at 1st Quarter.

The image in Fig 2 was made by students in my astronomy class, using the Alvan Clark 8″ telescope that once existed at Park College (Parkville, Mo).  No problem for students back in 1970 to understand why half the face turned toward Earth was dark.

But. Why use simple idea of planetoid rotating in the sun when we can rely on time-worn quasi-religious medieval pictures?  Astrological imagery is accepted by most of the world’s population, why fight it?

Actually, I suspect “darkside” replaces “farside” for much the same reason for the widespread computer use of icons instead of file maps like File Manager.  Why go to the trouble and learn reading and writing when you can communicate the way lab monkeys do by just touching a screen?  Why use centuries-old concepts of planetary orbits when, millennia-old superstitions work are acceptable to most people on Earth?  Darkside is probably another piece of evidence that we are slipping from an educated populace back to one who unquestioningly takes information from self appointed Experts.

click for list of our Space Exploration posts

I guess this the bad news is that we have yet another pointer to our slippage as an self determining society.

Flip side: Maybe the good news is that, this week, Michigan approved concealed carry of hand guns in schools.  (Passed by Republican representatives in their lame-duck session, so it must all good, right?)   This is written the same day that the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooter “met or exceeded” the Michigan legislature expectations.


Charles J. Armentrout, Ann Arbor
2012 Dec 14
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About LastTechAge

I am a physicist with years of work in fusion labs, industry labs, and teaching (physics and math). I have watched the tech scene, watched societal trends and am alarmed. My interest is to help us all improve or maintain that which we worked so hard to achieve.
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1 Response to Darkside of the Moon – or of American Society?

  1. varmentrout says:

    Although you could argue that Governor Snyder has gone to the darkside on labor and tax issues, he did veto the concealed carry for schools bill. Probably he didn’t want his picture juxtaposed with those of dead children.


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