Far side of the Moon

Far side of the Moon

The far side of the Moon is the lunar hemisphere that is permanently turned away from the Earth. The far hemisphere was first photographed by the Soviet Luna 3 probe in 1959, and was first directly observed by human eyes when the Apollo 8 mission orbited the Moon in 1968. The rugged terrain is distinguished by a multitude of crater impacts, as well as relatively few lunar maria. It includes the largest known impact feature in the Solar System: the South Pole-Aitken basin. The far side has been suggested as a potential location for a large radio telescope, as it would be shielded from possible radio interference from Earth.


Tidal forces between Earth and the Moon have slowed the moon's rotation so that the same side is always facing the Earth. The other face, which is never visible from the Earth in its entirety (18% is seen, see Tidal locking), is therefore called the "far side of the Moon". The far side should not be confused with the "dark side" (the hemisphere that is not illuminated by the Sun at a given point in time), as the two are the same only during a full moon. Both the near and far sides receive (on average) almost equal amounts of light from the Sun. However, the term "dark side of the moon" is used commonly to refer to the far side.

The two hemispheres have distinctly different appearances, with the near side covered in multiple, large "maria" (Latin for 'seas,' since the earliest astronomers thought, wrongly, that these plains were seas of lunar water).The far side has a battered, densely cratered appearance with few maria. Only 2.5% of the surface of the far side is covered by maria, [cite journal | author=J. J. Gillis, P. D. Spudis | title=The Composition and Geologic Setting of Lunar Far Side Maria | journal=Lunar and Planetary Science | year=1996 | volume=27 | pages=413–404 | url=http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1996LPI....27..413G ] compared to 31.2% on the near side. The most likely explanation for this difference is related to a higher concentration of heat-producing elements on the near-side hemisphere, as has been demonstrated by geochemical maps obtained from the Lunar Prospector gamma-ray spectrometer. While other factors such as surface elevation and crustal thickness could also affect where basalts erupt, these do not explain why the farside South Pole-Aitken basin (which contains the lowest elevations of the Moon and possesses a thin crust) was not as volcanically active as Oceanus Procellarum on the near side (for a more detailed discussion, see Lunar mare)


Until the late 1950s little was known about properties of the far side of the Moon. Librations of the Moon periodically allowed limited glimpses of features that are located near the lunar limb on the far side.These features, however, were seen from a low angle, hindering useful observation. (It proved difficult to distinguish a crater from a mountain range.) The remaining 82% of the surface on the far side remained unknown, and its properties were subject to much speculation.

An example of a far side feature that can be viewed through libration is the Mare Orientale, which is a prominent impact basin spanning almost convert|1000|km|mi|-2|lk=on. Yet this was not even named as a feature until 1906, by Julius Franz in "Der Mond". The true nature of the basin was discovered in the 1960s when rectified images were projected onto a globe. It was photographed in fine detail by Lunar Orbiter 4 in 1967.

On October 7, 1959 the Soviet probe, Luna 3, took the first photographs of the lunar far side, eighteen of them being resolvable ones [ [http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/database/MasterCatalog?sc=1959-008A Luna 3] . NASA] covering one-third of the surface invisible from the Earth.ru iconGreat Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd. edition, entry on "Луна (спутник Земли)", available online [http://slovari.yandex.ru/art.xml?art=bse/00043/79300.htm here] ] The images were analysed, and the first atlas of the far side of the Moon was published by the USSR Academy of Sciences on November 6 1960. [АТЛАС ОБРАТНОЙ СТОРОНЫ ЛУНЫ, Ч. 1, Moscow: USSR Academy of Sciences, 1960] [ [http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/Timeline/1960.html Aeronautics and Astronautics Chronology, 1960] . NASA] It included a catalog of 500 distinguished features of the landscape. [ru icon [http://heritage.sai.msu.ru/hist/150let.html Chronology, 1804-1980, to the 150th anniversary of GAISh - Moscow State University observatory] . MSU] A year later the first globe (1:13 600 000 scale ru icon [http://selena.sai.msu.ru/Symposium/maps_r.doc Moon maps and globes, created with the participation of Lunar and Planetary Research Department of SAI] . SAI] ) containing lunar features invisible from the Earth was released in the USSR, based on images from Luna 3. [ [http://www.mhs.ox.ac.uk/sphaera/index.htm?issue1/articl6 Saving Globes] an article in Sphaera: the Newsletter of the Museum of the History of Science, Oxford] On July 20 1965 another Soviet probe Zond 3 transmitted 25 pictures of very good quality of the lunar far side, [ [http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/database/MasterCatalog?sc=1965-056A Zond 3] . NASA] with much better resolution than those from Luna 3. In particular, they revealed chains of craters, hundreds of kilometers in length. In 1967 the second part of the "Atlas of the Far Side of the Moon" was published in Moscow, [АТЛАС ОБРАТНОЙ СТОРОНЫ ЛУНЫ, Ч. 2, Мoscow: Nauka, 1967] [ [http://www.adlerplanetarium.org/cyberspace/moon/observing.html Observing the Moon Throughout History] . Adler Planetarium] based on data from Zond 3, with the catalog now including 4,000 newly discovered features of lunar far side landscape. In the same year the first "Complete Map of the Moon" (1:5 000 000 scale) and updated complete globe (1:10 000 000 scale), featuring 95 percent of the lunar surface were released in the Soviet Union. [ [http://selena.sai.msu.ru/Home/Resear/ResearE.htm Works of the Department of lunar and planetary research of GAISh MGU] . SAI] [ru icon [http://selena.sai.msu.ru/Rod/Publications/Map_moon/Map_moon.htm Moon Maps] . MSU]

As a lot of prominent landscape features of the far side were discovered by Soviet space probes, Soviet scientists selected names for them. This caused some controversy, and the International Astronomical Union, leaving many of those names intact, later assumed the role of naming lunar features on this hemisphere.

The far side was first observed directly by human eyes during the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. Astronaut William Anders described the view:

It has been seen by all crew members of the Apollo 8 and Apollo 10 through Apollo 17 missions since that time, and photographed by multiple lunar probes. Spacecraft passing behind the Moon were out of direct radio communication with the Earth, and had to wait until the orbit allowed transmission. During the Apollo missions, the main engine of the Service Module was fired when the vessel was behind the Moon, producing some tense moments in Mission Control before the craft reappeared.


Because the far side of the Moon is shielded from radio transmissions from the Earth, it is considered a good location for placing radio telescopes for use by astronomers. Small, bowl-shaped craters provide a natural formation for a stationary telescope similar to Arecibo in Puerto Rico. For much larger-scale telescopes, the convert|100|km|mi|0|sing=on|spell=us diameter crater Daedalus is situated near the center of the far side, and the convert|3|km|mi|0|sing=on|abbr=on-high rim would help to block stray communications from orbiting satellites. Another potential candidate for a radio telescope is the Saha crater.cite news | first=Richard | last=Stenger | title=Astronomers push for observatory on the moon | publisher=CNN | date=2002-01-09 | url=http://archives.cnn.com/2002/TECH/space/01/05/lunar.observatory/ | accessdate=2007-01-26 ]

Before deploying radio telescopes to the far side, several problems must be overcome. The fine lunar dust can contaminate equipment, vehicles, and space suits. The conducting materials used for the radio dishes must also be carefully shielded against the effects of solar flares. Finally the area about the telescopes must be protected against contamination by other radio sources.

The L2 Lagrange point of the Earth-Moon system is located about convert|62800|km|mi|-2|abbr=on above the far side. This has also been proposed as the location of a future radio telescope, performing a Lissajous orbit about the Lagrangian point.

One of the NASA missions to the Moon under study would send a sample-return lander to the South Pole-Aitken basin, the location of a major impact event that created a formation nearly convert|2400|km|mi|0|spell=us across. The size of this impact has created a deep penetration into the lunar surface, and a sample returned from this site could be analyzed for information concerning the interior of the Moon. [cite journal | author=M. B. Duke, B. C. Clark, T. Gamber, P. G. Lucey, G. Ryder, G. J. Taylor | title=Sample Return Mission to the South Pole Aitken Basin | journal=Workshop on New Views of the Moon 2: Understanding the Moon Through the Integration of Diverse Datasets | year=1999 | pages=11 | url=http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/1998RPPh...61...77K ]

Because the near side is partly shielded from the solar wind by the Earth, the far side maria are expected to have the highest concentration of Helium-3 on the surface of the Moon. [cite news | title=Thar's Gold in Tham Lunar Hills | publisher=Daily Record | date=2006-01-28 | url=http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/tm_objectid=16637160&method=full&headline=thar-s-gold-in-tham-lunar-hills--name_page.html | accessdate=2007-01-26 ] This isotope is relatively rare on the Earth, but has good potential for use as a fuel in fusion reactors. Proponents of lunar settlement have cited presence of this material as a reason for development of a Moon base.

Fictional references

*The novel "Space" tells the fictional story of an Apollo 18 mission to the far side of the Moon. The novel was the source for a 1985 TV mini-series of the same name.
*The premise for the TV program "" was the explosion of a nuclear waste dump on the far side of the Moon. This propelled the Moon out of Earth's orbit and deep into space.
*"Ideas Die Hard" (1957), a short story by Isaac Asimov, described an ill-fated trip to the dark side of the Moon. First appearing in "Galaxy" magazine, it was reprinted in "The Winds of Change and Other Stories", ISBN 0-586-05743-9.
* In the anime show "Grendizer", the Vega galactic empire has set up a base on the far side of the Moon from which they launch attacks on Earth.
* Again in another anime show "Tekkaman Blade", the Radam mothership crash-lands on the far side of the Moon after sustaining severe damage, and for the duration of its repairs serves as the main base of operations for the Radam invaders.
* Pink Floyd had a seminal album titled "The Dark Side of the Moon".
*"The Far Side of the Moon" is the English title of the French-Canadian movie "La Face cachée de la lune".
*The Far side of the Moon also features prominently in the writings of Francis E. Dec, an American conspiracy theorist who likely suffered from schizophrenia. In Dec's worldview, the so-called "dark side of the moon" housed what he referred to as the "Brain-bank cities", which Dec proclaimed played an integral part in controlling and enslaving the entire human population.


External links

* [http://www.lpi.usra.edu/expmoon/ Lunar and Planetary Institute: Exploring the Moon]
* [http://www.lpi.usra.edu/resources/lunar_atlases/ Lunar and Planetary Institute: Lunar Atlases]
* [http://ralphaeschliman.com/id26.htm Ralph Aeschliman Planetary Cartography and Graphics: Lunar Maps]
* [http://www.catchafallingstar.com//nwa482/nwa482ebay.htm Northwest Africa 482, only meteorite believed to have originated from the far side of the Moon]
* [http://www.psrd.hawaii.edu/Archive/Archive-Moon.html Moon articles in Planetary Science Research Discoveries]

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