An exciting part of our school workshop is when pupils handle some of the Gold foil from the original Moon landing command module, and also when they have a go at our remote control Moon rover on a pretend lunar surface.
This is no surprise because the Moon has fascinated poets, artists and scientists for many years with its prominent position in our night sky.
Although we are accustomed to gazing at the Moon outside our window in wonder, it is hard to believe exactly what it is like without either visiting it or reading and watching the accounts of the men who stepped on it during the USA’s ‘Apollo’ moon landing programme. These brave astronauts were not only explorers, but trained scientists and geologists who were helping to answer questions such as these featured below about the Moon’s origins
(Teachers, this is covered in much more detail in our Rockets to Rovers school space workshop)
The most popular theory about how the Moon was formed links the collision that caused the Earth’s axis to tilt with the formation of the Moon (discussed in the article ‘Why do we have seasons?’), when chunks of it broke off and gathered together into a sphere in Earth’s orbit, in the same way that Earth formed around the sun.
This was caused by gravity, which acts on every object, large or small, and is also responsible for the craters on the Moon and the ‘ejecta’ lines that come out from them which were caused by meteors flying from them as they hit the Moon.
Other popular theories on how the Moon formed include something called the co-formation theory, which suggests that the Moon formed alongside Earth instead of after it, and the capture theory, suggesting that the Moon was formed elsewhere with the Earth ‘snagging’ it into its orbit. Which theory do you think is correct?
The same gravitational force that created the Moon also led to scientists having to design the biggest rocket ever built, the mighty Saturn V, in order to take men all the 250,000 miles to the Moon.
But gravity isn’t the only force that rocket scientists had to consider. Without also understanding the forces of thrust, lift and air resistance they would never have been able to solve the mathematical problems to travel such a vast distance, or even take flight at all. The Moon is rather far away, after all - if the Earth was the size of a football then the Moon would be the size of a baseball and be 12 metres away! When we demonstrate this with real models in our rockets workshop this is really astonishing!
Even though the Moon is so far away, when it goes over our oceans it sucks them towards it so much that the water shrinks back at the edges, causing the tides in our seas to rise and fall twice every day. We know this because the tides match the Moon’s cycle exactly, which is how lifeguards and sailors know to the absolute minute when the tide is going in and out! So if you ever go surfing, make sure you look up to the sky and say thank you Mr Moon because without it you would probably just sink!
Of course not, but scientists had no idea what it was really made of until the Apollo astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on it on 20th July 1969. In fact, they were so unsure of what the Moon was made of that Neil Armstrong tested the ground with his toes before putting his full weight upon it in case it sucked him down!
He shouldn't have worried though because the samples they brought back with them confirmed that it was made of rocks very similar to those found on Earth, which matched the theory about it maybe being formed from an asteroid colliding with Earth.
In total, all of the Apollo missions brought back over 300kgs of rocks that have now been shared all around the world with the scientists of over 130 different countries. In Britain, the closest moon rock you can see is at the International Space Museum in Leicester, where it is kept like all the other samples in a case filled with nitrogen gas to protect it from the Earth’s atmosphere.
When scientists first got the Moon rocks, they were actually a bit miffed because they just looked like charcoal! But when they brushed the dust off and looked closer they found amazing things, such as the fact that moon dust is free of any disease or threat to earth life, the Moon is covered with small blobs of coloured glass and that temperatures of 1,200 degrees Celsius were about when the rocks were formed.
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