The Moon is full early today, so it's big and bright as it rises shortly after sunset. It's easy to make out the dark areas that form the features of the "man in the Moon" -- although you need a good imagination to see a face in all those blotches.
In July of 1969, though, there were two other faces on the Moon -- those of Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin. They landed in one of the dark areas, known as the Sea of Tranquility.
Their main mission was to beat the Soviets to the Moon and get home safely. Even so, their work revealed a great deal about the Moon itself.
It showed that the lunar surface is solid. Some scientists feared that billions of years of pounding by meteoroids had pulverized the surface, creating a thick blanket of dust. The Moon is dusty, but no more so than Earth.
The rocks that Armstrong and Aldrin brought to Earth revealed an important story, too.
They told scientists that the Sea of Tranquility is a plain of volcanic rock. It formed more than three and a half billion years ago. That's hundreds of millions of years after the Moon was born, so the Moon was pretty active in its early life. But the rocks and soil contained a jumble of bits from other parts of the Moon -- blasted out by impacts with big asteroids.
The full Moon of July is known as the Hay Moon or Thunder Moon. But to commemorate the early lunar explorations, perhaps it's time to add one more name to the list: the Apollo Moon.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2008
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