365 x 5 = 100,000 Days of the Moon
January 25, 2019
When I was a child, the friendly face of the “Man-in-the-Moon” amused me in fairy tales. As I grew older, Luna became a destination, a place to be explored by heroic astronauts, and a springboard for humanity to reach into the heavens. As my love of the sky grew and I explored the Moon through a telescope, many facets of this world became ingrained in my soul like the essence of good literature or the sentiment of fine poetry. The scientist in me appreciates the physics of the Moon’s creation and the chemistry and geology of its physical make up, but there is more to the Moon than pure science. Even after Space Age explorations revealed much about the Moon, it is still a place of deep mystery and the Moon still pulls at my soul. A look through a telescope shows me a world that is rugged yet serene, harsh yet beautiful, alien yet appealing, tortured yet calm, and strange yet friendly.
Five years ago, my passion for the Moon led me to embark on a long-term project. I decided to post on Facebook a different image of the Moon every day for a year. These Moon shots were taken through my telescope and were posted with some personal insights about the Moon and how the images were taken. I had two goals, introduce the Moon to a wider public audience and to see if I could do such a program for a full year. I called this project “365 Days of the Moon”.
Initially, my Moon shots were viewed by several hundred Facebook “friends”. In no time word spread about my lunar images and I was inundated with friend requests. I now have nearly 5000 friends who follow my lunar work on my personal Facebook page. I also expanded my posting to other astronomy, planetary science, and space exploration Facebook sites, including Celestron’s. I surpassed my goal of posting daily for a year and 365 Days of the Moon went on for three years before life began to intervene, forcing me to occasionally skip some days. Today I am astonished that 365 Days of the Moon is seen by 100,000 people around the world.
As an amateur astronomer, I have encountered decades of grumbling from other observers about how the Moon is a source of light pollution that blocks the view of dim galaxies and nebulae. My thoughts about the Moon are the opposite. The Moon has been my companion for over half a century. Like many of my generation, the Moon is what spurred a lifelong interest in astronomy and the pursuit of other sciences. Since my first telescopic glimpse of the Moon in 1958, the quest for the Moon has been a dominant force enriching my understanding of our universe. The Moon is there for us to enjoy and understand the world-building processes that created the planets in our solar system. When the Moon is up, it should be embraced and explored, not cursed as an obstruction. The sky is infinite. There is room for both the deep sky and the stunning alien lunar world so close to our Earth. My goal is to make the Moon an inviting destination for everyone.
I was recently asked an intriguing question, “After doing 365 Days of the Moon for so many years, what have you learned and admired and explored on this journey?” After reflecting on the question, I realized the answer is multifaceted and goes beyond simply learning facts about the Moon. Yes, along they way I have been delighted to learn new “textbook” facts about the Moon. And after carefully examining the over 1000 Moon shots posted on 365 Days of the Moon, and I am thrilled that I can independently identify and deduce the geologic processes that created the face of the Moon. But facts and figures are not the most important thing. What strikes me the most about my 365 Days of the Moon journey is the reactions of people from all over the world. More people out there love the Moon than I realized!
As 365 Days of the Moon initially gained popularity, one unofficial statistic caught my eye, a very high number of new Facebook friend requests were from India. It took little thought to realize why; there are four times as many people in India as here in the USA, they speak English (probably better than I do!), they are fascinated with science and technology, and they love the Moon! I began to realize the international reach of Facebook as lunar enthusiasts from six continents followed my Moon posts. Eventually I became acquainted with many luminaries whose excellent lunar photography inspired me to explore Luna with my camera. The more I got to know these people from many diverse lands, the more I saw the importance of community within the international astronomy village. Today, national politics are divisive and international relations are tense. But my interaction with astronomers and Moon enthusiasts from all over the world shows me that on the level of the average citizen, we are more alike than different. We all desire peace and wellbeing for all, continued exploration and understanding of our beautiful universe, and friendship for all.
The more I interacted with people through 365 Days of the Moon the more I realized there were many folks who are fascinated by the Moon but know little about it. After half a century of Space Age exploration, we academically know a lot about the Moon, but to the general public the Moon is still as mysterious as before Apollo landed humans on that world. As I explained the features highlighted in my daily Moon posts, many readers responded, thanking me for my insights and explanations, and offering gratitude for helping them understand the Moon. I have found as people gain an understanding of the Moon, even though the daily morsels of 365 Days of the Moon, they have desire to explore it further. It is no longer strange world covered with holes, but a world they understand and appreciate. One pleasing aspect is the audience of 365 Days of the Moon includes some of the people who either helped explore the Moon or are serious space history enthusiasts. These people know a lot about how we got Apollo to the Moon and the robotic exploration of the Moon, but they know surprising little about the Moon itself. Explaining the Moon to some of the folks who helped conquer it is quite a thrill.
Why do I think so many people around the world are still fascinated by the Moon? The Moon, on a basic level, is still such an object of mystery and intrigue that after 1000 generations it is an unconscious part of the human psyche. No other celestial object has spurred such an outpouring of poetry, classical literature, religion, superstition, science fiction, hard sciences, and technical engineering. The Moon has always lured the human imagination and continues to inspire man’s creativity and desire to explore the unknown.
For the backyard observer, the Moon offers an advantage over deep sky objects. First, it is a world full of geologic wonders that dance before us and change hour by hour in a constant parade of shadows and phases. Second, you can easily locate it, even in the most light-polluted location. Third, dark skies are not required; nearby lights do not affect seeing the Moon. Fourth, it is close enough to Earth that features on the Moon as small as one kilometer in diameter are visible in common amateur telescopes. And the Moon offers a fantastic variety of geologic features for our appreciation. Navigating the Moon’s face is simple because, just like the constellations give us a stellar road map, the dark mare areas that make up the “Man-in-the-Moon” provide navigation signposts across the lunar disk. I am pleased that 365 Days of the Moon has inspired people to understand and appreciate the Moon.
Through 365 Days of the Moon, I realized the amazing metamorphosis of the Moon just within my own lifetime. When I first started observing the Moon through a Gilbert 3-inch reflector in 1958, the far side of the Moon was terra incognita and any thoughts of sending humans there was purely the realm of Buck Rogers science fiction. But in the past half century, the Moon transformed from a scientifically static ball of rock into the well explored world it is today. This scientific transformation was exciting, but only a retrospective look shows how much we learned about the Moon in such a short period of time.
On a personal level, 365 Days of the Moon has been an amazing experience. One of the joys in my life has been using 365 Days of the Moon to spread my passion for the Moon and introduce its wonders to others. I had no idea that my plan to post a daily lunar image would lead to many new friendships and many new opportunities. Because of 365 Days of the Moon I have been invited to speak to such diverse audiences as the amateur astronomy community in China and the fabulous Spacefest convention in Tucson whose attendees include the heroes who actually walked on the Moon! It has been a stunning journey and I am enjoying the ride!
Here are some other images from Robert Reeves 100,000 Days of the Moon (click image to enlarge)