Always with us, always changing, almost within reach, yet distantly elusive, the moon—our moon—just can’t be ignored. It is celebrated by lunatics and lovers, mystics and scientists, poets and painters. It is predictable yet fascinating as it hangs between a vast incomprehensible universe and tempestuous world.
Has it always been there? Did it form in the swirling mass of gas that magically collected in what we poetically call the Milky Way? Is it a piece of our own Earth that broke loose and almost escaped from us?
There are other planets with moons. Some have features far stranger than ours. Take the moons of Saturn, for example. There are eighteen of them ranging in diameter from twelve to over three thousand miles. Or Europa, the moon of Jupiter, that has recently bee found to have a molten core under its icy surface that constantly reverses the magnetic field it creates. Wonderful stuff for scientific study and speculation.
But who would trade these distant moons for our wondrously luminescent orb that can appear as a cold and distant crescent in the inky winter darkness or a gigantic glowing globe in the autumn twilight?
About a dozen of us have been to our moon, have walked on it, have touched it through the thin garment that carries Earth with us. The rest of us have watched in wonder, each having private thoughts about our place, our space, our dream. It is our very personal moon.
Yet is is also our shared moon. Not a tourist destination or vacation spot—not yet. But wherever we are on Earth, we can bathe in its soft light and marvel at is prisinte features. We all still own the moon. It connects us. My moon is your moon, whether you are by my side or far away.
Tomorrow, Friday, January 21, 2000, those in the right place—and we are in the right place—will be treated to the amazing spectacle of watching our own shadow travel across the full moon. Not since 1996 has this sight been visible to us.
The full moon will rise Friday just in time to start vanishing. Slowly more and more of it will disappear until, at 8:00 p.m., it will be totally gone, leaving only a haunting glow as a placeholder of where it once shone. For almost an hour and a half the shadow of all of us spinning around on Earth will blot out the moon. Then, once again,arc by arc, it will slowly return.
At the moment our shadow eats into the moon’s light, it becomes clear in the darkness that we’re all traveling this route across the skies together. This is not a shadow cast by a single country, a dominant species, or a lone rock. This is not a shadow any one of us can create. And as the moon reappears once again, its reflection reassures us that we are in the right place in space.