Moon Day 2016: Four Facts About Luna that Influenced My Science Fiction

fullmoon2010Wednesday. I hit the alarm, staggered to the bathroom to get ready for work…and gasped as a cosmic pearl dazzled my bleary eyes. At 5:45 AM, the moon still hung over the field behind my house, shrouded in lavender dawn clouds. The sight was breathtaking, and appropriate: it’s not just Wednesday, it’s Moon Day! July 20 marks the anniversary of the Apollo 11 lunar landing and spacewalk in 1969. I’ve learned a lot of fascinating things about the moon while researching Syzygy, which involves a near-future lunar colony. In honor of Moon Day, I compiled four fun facts about Luna that helped me shape my story.

1) Only one face of the moon is ever visible from Earth. Due to synchronous rotation—the moon spinning on its axis in the same time it orbits Earth—the “nearside” always presents. Its hidden hemisphere is termed the “farside” or “dark side”, a reference to its unknown nature, not lack of light. (I use the latter term in Syzygy for purely creative reasons: “Darksiders” is a much more ominous name for potential adversaries than “Farsiders”.)

2) Lunar days and nights last for approximately two weeks. The opening scene of  Syzygy finds one of the protagonists using the lengthy darkness as cover for some suspicious activity. In real life, extended nighttimes make solar power a problematic energy source for prospective colonies, unless they establish bases at…

3) …the “Peaks of Eternal Light” (PELs). Several points at the moon’s polar regions receive sunlight an average 80% of the lunar year. In Syzygy, I built my lunar colony beside Shackleton Crater on the south pole and powered it with a solar array on the always-illuminated rim. (PELs aren’t unique to Luna. They are found throughout the solar system, as are their counterparts, “Craters of Eternal Darkness”. Yes, it’s a hokey name. No, I did not make it up.)

4) Water may exist on Luna. Although the moon can’t sustain liquid water, for decades scientists have speculated that polar craters may conceal ice. With a little chemistry, we can also produce water from from lunar soil, or regolith. Regolith contains iron oxide; when hydrogen is added, the two react and form H2O (kind of like how my combustible protagonists create a surprising team when thrown together)! I mention this technology in my story as one of the colony’s water sources.

Researching and writing Syzygy let me see the moon in a completely different way. I’ll probably never leave footprints in the regolith as the astronauts did in 1969, but Moon Day is a perfect opportunity to take more than a passing glance at our only natural satellite. If it’s a clear night where you live, do a little moongazing. If it’s cloudy, snag a copy of Syzygy Pt I: Transient Phenomena and imagine life on a lunar colony.

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