The moon was almost full last night, and sitting right up in the sky outside my living room window in a clear sky, so I had a good view. When this happens I get amazed that I can see variation in the moon’s surface. I was trying to think this thought: “Amazing. It’s ______ miles away and I can see all the _______.” But I didn’t know how far away it was or what the variations I could see actually are. This is the sort of thing I think I am supposed to know but don’t. Then I remembered that if you don’t know something you would like to know, you can find it out. This is an obvious thing, an advantage of the brain plus books plus other people plus the internet, but I am constantly not bothering to do anything about it.
So I looked this one up. (On the computer.) First up was Google’s answer – the moon is 238,900 miles from earth. I started thinking about how to really get how far that is, but then I spotted another search result three items down in the form of a question: How far away is the moon? I liked the sound of that, linguistically speaking, so I followed the link to the NASA SpacePlace page, which appears to be set up for younger people than myself. Such pages can be excellent for learning information that one thinks one is already expected to know, because it’s (sometimes) offered in clear and plain terms, though one might also have to read around some condescension, which is too bad.
NASA’s explanation, not surprisingly, is a little more detailed and nuanced (accurate) than Google’s. The distance between the earth and the moon changes, so it can be expressed as an average or as a measurement at a particular moment in its orbit (which is not a perfect circle, hence the variation in distance). According to NASA SpacePlace, the moon is 238,855 miles on average. At its closest, 225,623, and at its farthest, 252,088.
I had to stop myself from reading much more just then because when it comes to the moon, several very cool words come into play (apogee, perigee, penumbra, et. al.) and as a result I knew myself to be at risk for spending the rest of the day becoming a moon expert (relative to how I’d been night before) and I had other things people were counting on me to do.
All of that is to say I was glad to be reminded that a few seconds spent asking a question and looking for an answer is enough to put things in perspective, and when things are in perspective, universe-wise, it’s hard not to be amazed and inspired and re-energized for whatever earthly toil one has assigned one’s self, even in a terribly tumultuous time.