Lunar eclipses grab the headlines. They’re colorful, they’re easy and safe to observe and they’re given great names. But, for me, there is so much more to the Moon than just those moments when it occasionally falls into the Earth’s shadow. Eclipses are in the here and now, but the Moon’s history is really its most important story. It’s a horror show.
On the Moon, there’s a fine line between light and darkness, between serenity and chaos. I suppose, though, to have one without the other would detract from its magic. On a calm night not long ago, the Moon, well up in the southwestern sky, captured my attention. It was shaped like a crescent, the result of its orbital position around its host planet. It was stunningly bright, yet sufficiently dim to allow me to marvel at its features without the use of a filter. There were countless craters with ragged edges, and smooth seas—lunar maria— set in opposition though, they too, had been scarred eons ago by rocks of all sizes crashing into them at tremendous speeds. On the Moon, there’s evidence of violence everywhere and, from that violence, beautiful shapes and shades have arisen that forever have thrilled the casual observer as well as the astronomer perched on a secluded mountaintop.
Sometimes, it’s best to view something in its entirety, as during an eclipse. That’s when the sum of the parts overwhelms specific details. I just happen to believe that the Moon’s most awe-inspiring and relevant images are not from eclipses, but rather from the orb’s terminator and its limb. It is along these lines that the peaks and valleys and the unmistakable unevenness of the lunar surface are best revealed. They provide proof of the endless bombardment, eruption and erosion that the Moon has endured.
The terminator is the line that divides the Moon’s day from its night. The limb is the outer edge of the Moon from our point of view. Gaze upon these sights with their contrasts and witness what violence has wrought. In space, it seems, violence is not only natural and expected, but can be a precursor to something that, at least to the eye, is even more spectacular and wondrous.
The nearness of the Moon makes it easy to differentiate it from Earth. Though we admire it for its perseverance and its shape-shifting ways, for all its magnificence, it is just barren and beat up. Like all the other objects in our solar system – other than Earth – it’s lifeless. If it ever supported life, did the violence help to strip it away?
Everyone loves a photograph of a galactic collision. We are enthralled by fresh images of black holes and supernovae. We love explosions. As my eyes followed the curve of the Moon’s terminator just a few weeks ago, I kept thinking about the violence that had occurred there and the daily violence we experience on Earth.
I think it goes back to those fine lines, to realizing and accepting just how close we are to being just like the Moon. All the points of light in space are certainly not in control of their destiny. They crash together, implode, and seem to be very much like balloons at an arcade game waiting for a dart to pierce them and change them forever. Violence and chaos indeed.
Let’s be honest. We’re not in complete control here either. We’ve suffered the blows of meteors and asteroids before. Still, we determine so much of what happens next. Here, we actually draw those lines and, unfortunately, every so often we erase them.
We need to constantly be reminded of that. Sometimes, just looking at the Moon, serves as that reminder. Let violence and darkness and chaos continue to roam the realms of the lifeless. Here, among the living, they should never be welcomed.