Yesterday evening, as I was watching something on TV, my middle granddaughter sent me this text message: - “You know about eclipses and stuff. Do you know why the moon is orange??”
I was rather touched by the 16-year-old’s faith in my knowledge about ‘eclipses and stuff”, checked with her that the moon was actually orange from where she saw it, and had a look out of our window. It was still too early in the evening for us to see the moon as there is a huge great hill in the way. Yes, she confirmed, the moon looked decidedly orange as it rose behind their house. She told me she “found it odd ‘cause it’s been white for the last few days. It was only just coming up when I first texted you.”
(Linguistic note: I was impressed by her correct use of the past tense of the verb “to text”!)
My own experience is that if the moon was looking orange it was usually when it was low in the sky, so I did a little research for her after my TV programme finished and I found this for her:
“The moon is always gray. The different atmospheric conditions just make the light appear different colors.
The moon is sometimes orange because of refraction.
The moon can appear orange when it is low in the sky and when there are a lot of dust particles in the atmosphere.
The visible light of the moon is made up of different colors: red, orange, yellow, blue, green and purple (which together appear white).
As it approaches Earth, the light of the moon passes through the atmosphere.
When the air is clear and the moon is overhead, the light rays all reach the Earth, and so the moon appears white.
So why does the moon look orange when it is low or when the sky is dusty, smoky or polluted? These circumstances make it more difficult for the light waves to travel all the way to you. When the moon is low on the horizon, it's actually much farther away from you than when it is overhead, so its light has to travel through a lot more atmosphere to reach you.
Along the way, some of the colors (blue, green and purple) get refracted (deflected off their path because of their short wavelength) by the particles in the air - they just can't make it through all that dust and pollution.
The strong light waves that do make it are (you guessed it!) red, yellow and orange - the colors with the longest wavelengths.
This is also why sunsets look the way they do.”
There you go!
And now the moon is in the news again because fifty years ago men walked on the moon. I must have seen stuff on the television at the time, as we were just back from doing our year in France as part of our Modern Languages degree course, but I have not specific memory of it.
Apparently Nasa invited heads of state around the world to send messages to go to the moon. Our very own queen was naturally one of those invited to do so.
Buckingham Palace seemingly thought it was a bit gimmicky but the government was keen. “Their idea of emphasising the international aspect of the first men on the moon is something we want to support,” wrote John Graham, principal private secretary to the then foreign secretary, Michael Stewart.
He added that “it would look churlish” to decline.
The Queen’s then private secretary, Michael Adeane, writing on Buckingham Palace headed notepaper, recorded the Queen had approved the suggested text of a message.
But, he added: “Her Majesty agrees that this idea is a gimmick and it is not the sort of thing she much enjoys doing but she certainly would not wish to appear churlish by refusing an invitation which is so obviously well intentioned.”
Never let it be said that our queen was churlish.
And so this message was sent:-
“On behalf of the British people, I salute the skills and courage which have brought man to the moon. May this endeavour increase the knowledge and well-being of mankind.” I can almost hear the queenly tones.
Here’s another little nugget about moon landings and space travel:
“American space success came after the Soviets had launched Sputnik 2 in November 1957, with the dog Laika, a stray Moscow mongrel, on board, though she died in orbit. In April 1961, Russian Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit around Earth, returning a hero.
When Gagarin visited the UK in July 1961, while much of Germany was still under Soviet occupation, such was the rapturous UK welcome that the British ambassador to West Germany, Sir Christopher Steel, reported that “the average German finds it alarming that the British, who are supposed to be reserved and politically mature, should rave over a Bolshevik on a propaganda mission, even if he is a hero”.
The British prime minister, Harold Macmillan, noted: “I think Sir C Steel might point out to the Germans that Gagarin’s reception was nothing like that which the little dog would have got.”.
And now, in this evening’s radio news I am pretty sure I heard something about a partial eclipse of the moon. It should be visible, the newsman said, in areas where the sky is clear. Well, yes, that sounds logical.
The best time to see it will be at about 10.30pm. Great! I know from last night’s experience that even if the sky remains clear, as it is at the moment, the moon will still be hidden behind that great hill.
Even from the attic windows there won’t be much of a view! How very annoying!