9 strange lunar facts to howl about during the full moon

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Aug 7, 2017

Flying to the moon and back hasn’t sent every creepy rumor, from madness to lycanthropy to a ghostly face grinning down at us from among the craters, back into space. New-Agey moon crystals are thought to absorb its energy like something out of My Little Pony. Sci-fi and mysticism aside, there are factoids about the rock that orbits our planet even stranger than shapeshifting.

Beyond that otherworldly glow are some almost supernatural phenomena and far-out theories. Because the hypothesis that the moon is a hollow alien spaceship not unlike the Death Star was bound to hatch from the brains of the alien-obsessed.

Look past pseudoscience and it gets even weirder. Somehow a cosmic object with no magnetic field manages to generate magnetic rocks. Moon dust, even with its sparkly fairy-tale reputation, could be lethal.

Speaking of sinister — what is that ominous thing that looks like an extraterrestrial obelisk rising from the lunar surface?

Freak out in a moonage daydream with nine facts about our satellite that are literally out of this world.

Moonquakes are a thing.

We have earthquakes; the moon has moonquakes. Same thing, different rock? Not quite. While tremors on our planet are caused by tectonic plates that refuse to stay in one place for too long, no one has ever been able to unearth exactly what shakes our satellite. There is a theory floating around that they have some unknown connection to Earth's tidal activity, but science gets in the way when you realize that lunar spasms are localized while the invisible hand of tidal forces has power over the entire moon.

It wasn't magnetic until it was.

The moon itself has no magnetic field. Scientists theorize it could have had one for around a billion years, billions of years ago, until it got vaporized (we're still not sure by what). Never mind that there is no definite proof the moon ever had any magnetism. So what explains the mysterious magnetism discovered in moon rocks by Apollo astronauts?

The rocks would have had to form from the right minerals and been exposed to magnetic forces as they cooled. This is what has led scientists to believe in two phenomena that could possibly explain how the moon once had a magnetic field, if it ever did.

Some scientists believe a theoretical journey to the center of the moon would reveal that its almost impenetrable rocky mantle activates a liquid iron core as they rotate on their axes. The other suggests that the mantle woke up the car when it was bombarded with space rocks. Either way, it's probably not aliens.

It has its own Dark Tower. Sort of.

While Stephen King didn't write a lunar obelisk into being, the towering spire that excited UFO-logists for years is certainly weird enough to exist in his universe. Of course someone had to assume that this thing was built for the express purpose of docking an alien starship (as opposed to the moon actually being a starship — more on that later).

The nebulous photos from Google Earth that had set off so many extraterrestrial enthusiasts were just about as believable as those grainy shots of Nessie. After analyzing newer and more detailed images from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Camera (LROC), scientist Noah Petro cleared up the moon dust with an explanation. This is no far-out landing pad but a small crater punched into larger crater Mersenius E by a random passing asteroid. Because the sun is so low on the horizon, it casts a long shadow that merges with debris cascading down into Mersenius E. Meaning, what was thought to be an obelisk is an optical illusion.

You don't want to breathe in moon dust.

Science fiction may imagine moon dust as some almost mystical substance, but the reality is much less dreamlike. You don't exactly want a substance that not only smells like something got seriously burnt but is notorious for wearing down space suits and even sabotaging airlocks invading your lungs. Because of its extra-fine particles and the moon's low gravity, it also gets everywhere and sticks to everything faster than glitter.

The tendency for moon dust to cling to whatever it comes into contact with, including spacecraft, means torture for Earthlings. The gray stuff is so abrasive because it is the result of micrometeorite impacts that crush rock to powder. Even worse, the insane energy generated by such crashes actually melts it into vapor that condenses into a glass-like substance over those rock remnants. Apollo astronauts on the 1969-1972 moon missions had serious issues after breathing in what is much worse than anything that makes you cough on Earth.

Shadows are that much creepier.

Look down at your shadow on the moon and you'll notice that it's unnaturally dark and has a halo — and also a tendency to disappear. Astronauts were first frightened and then frustrated by lunar shadows, which have messed with spacecraft and equipment maintenance by blacking out what they were doing with their own hands. Some thought their moon boots were stepping right into a horror movie when the shadows caused cavernous illusions.

No, this is not some supernatural phenomenon. What makes human astronauts feel like they may be morphing into vampires is the opposition effect. Deep shadows lurk all over the lunar surface, but your shadow will be obscured by your own body if you turn your head and it will only be visible from a certain angle in relation to the sun. That halo is the result of more light illuminating the surrounding moon dust. Sunlight reflecting off crystalline minerals makes it look even more eerie.

Things appear in reverse.

Phases of the moon may overshadow the paranoid with rumors about lunacy and possibly werewolves, but from the moon, you'd actually be watching phases of the Earth. The phases are also vice versa. A new moon from Earth means a full Earth from the moon (no word on whether that would provoke wolves to howl). The moon blocking out the sun in a solar eclipse observed from Earth would be seen as Earth blocking out the sun with a halo of light glowing around our planet in a total eclipse.

Say you're in your space suit, setting up a lawn chair and getting ready to kick back and view a total solar eclipse from the moon. That darkness you'll see slowly creeping across Earth is the moon's umbra, or shadow, staining the the earth with a dark blotch like some sort of alien evil. You’ll see more Earth from the moon during a solar eclipse than you see moon from Earth during a lunar eclipse when our planet’s umbra completely engulfs it.

It came from outer space …

… but where in space could be anybody's guess. Not to mention how it even came into being. Some theories say worlds literally collided, either when Earth had a run-in with a planet about the size of Mars or a cluster of asteroids smashed into each other and accreted into what is now the moon.

Less vague are the Fission Theory, which argues that the moon broke off from Earth, possibly what would be the Pacific Ocean basin, as our planet was forming, and the Capture Theory, which imagines it being grabbed by our gravitational field as it was meandering through the cosmos. The view scientists are now taking the most seriously is The Giant Impact Theory (aka Ejected Ring Theory). A primordial Earth is thought to have smacked into the protoplanet Theia, which, like any epic collision, left behind an immense cloud of debris. These leftovers supposedly ended up sticking together and giving rise to the moon.

… and has its own ancient alien theory.

You knew this was coming. If the Spaceship Moon hypothesis sounds like fiction more than science, it probably is. Just because we haven't been able to probe deep enough to determine what the moon's innards are doesn't mean the moon is a hollow spaceship that was piloted over here by aliens billions and billions of years ago — but that is exactly what some theorists believe.

While the idea spawned in science fiction (where else?) over a hundred years ago, it really got its tentacles when scientists Michael Vasin and Alexander Scherbakov fleshed it out in the '70s, claiming that lunar craters are too shallow for whatever lies beneath to be solid. They believed that the smaller craters were the imprints of small meteors, while larger meteors somehow blasted straight through the moon's surface to what they imagined was some sort of Death Star underneath. This theory is so out there, even this guy probably doubts it.

There is a risqué Andy Warhol sketch still lying there.

While the moon has been the subject of art that has imagined everything from fairies swinging from it to purple-spotted cows jumping over it, there is actually art lying around on the moon. When Apollo 15 touched down, so did Fallen Astronaut, a sculpture by Paul Van Hoeydonk that was supposed to memorialize those who have died pursuing space exploration. There was some discrepancy over whether or not the statue should have been standing up — but it gets weirder.

Before Van Hoeydonk’s astronaut ever took flight, Apollo 12 landed on the lunar surface with some peculiar cargo. Hanging on to the leg of its Intrepid module was a tiny ceramic tile sketched on by some of the most prominent artists of the '60s, which indisputably had to include Andy Warhol. Except Warhol's contribution was controversial. He insisted it was a creative way to draw his initials, but to say the least, most people see something more X-rated.