Children ages 8 to 13 are faced with a challenge to determine the truth about the Moon's influence on Earth. They think like a scientist — with reasoning skills and a healthy amount of skeptism—to sort puzzle pieces containing statements about the Moon into two images. The "Far-out Far Side" has incorrect statements about the Moon (urban myths), and "True-Blue Blue Moon" has true facts about the Moon's influence on Earth and life. Allow 30 minutes for this activity.
The 10-minute investigation, Penny Moon, may be incorporated into this activity.
What's the Point?
- Scientific investigations involve asking and answering a question and comparing the answer with what scientists already know about the world.
- Scientists develop explanations using observations (evidence) and what they already know about the world (scientific knowledge). Good explanations are based on evidence from investigations.
- The Moon has influenced our culture. Many urban myths incorrectly ascribe human and animal behavior to the Moon's influence.
- Scientific explanations emphasize evidence, have logically consistent arguments, and use scientific principles, models, and theories.
- The Moon's gravity does influence the Earth's spin and tilt, and it pulls on Earth's oceans to create the tides.
- While our bodies are made of up to 60% water, it is all contained inside of us and we cannot feel the pull of the Moon.
- The light of the full Moon has some limited affects on animal behavior.
For the group:
- Optional: materials to conduct the activity, Penny Moon
- Computer and projector to show a brief movie of an astronaut walking on the Moon, such as Moon Walk
For each child:
- Puzzle Pieces, preferably printed in color
- Puzzle templates for taping down the puzzle pieces:
- Optional: puzzle guides
- Tape or glue sticks
- 1 red marker
- His/her Marvel Moon comic book and binder clip
For the facilitator:
- Review the background information.
- Print the puzzle pieces, templates, and if desired, the puzzle guides (images of the lunar farside and nearside to help the children complete the puzzle picture).
- If desired, gather and set out the materials to conduct the investigation, Penny Moon.
- Provide a computer and projector to show a brief online movie of an astronaut walking on the Moon. Several files are available as part of Activity 1, How Much Would You Weigh on Distant Planets? NASA/MSU-Bozeman CERES Project.
Facilitator's Note: There are many urban legends purporting a connection between the Moon and a number of effects in humans and other animals. The supposed effects are too numerous to list here, but the following resources treat the topic thoroughly:
May 8, 2010 365 Days of Astronomy podcast: "How Lunar Cycles Affect Wildlife"
A naturalist, a science educator, and a conservation biologist discuss the effect of the full Moon on wildlife.
The Skeptics Dictionary, "Full Moon and Lunar Effects"
Conspiracy theories abound on the Apollo Moon landings. Experts have offered validation for the reality of the Moon landings during interviews, on websites, and in books. The lunar samples, featured in the activity The Rocks Speak, offer perhaps the most convincing evidence. Thousands of scientists across the globe have analyzed these and portions of the other 842 pounds of material returned during the Apollo missions. Science does not possess the knowledge to imitate the age, unique chemical composition, and conditions of formation that are recorded by the samples. This topic is thoroughly investigated in the following resources:
Bad Astronomy: Misconceptions and Misuses Revealed, from Astrology to the Moon Landing "Hoax"
Philip Plait, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002, ISBN 0471409766
The Big Splat
Dana Mackenzie, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Hoboken, NJ, ISBN 0-471-15057-6
The appendix offers a rebuttal for several conspiracy claims from political and scientific viewpoints. A quote from geoscientist Randy Korotev of Washington University in St. Louis is particularly illuminating, "The Apollo samples are just too good [to be faked]... I've studied lunar rocks and soils for thirty-plus years and I couldn't make even a poor imitation…in the lab."
Phil Plait's Bad Astronomy: Yes, We Really Did Go to the Moon!
Mythbusters Results, Mythbusters Episode 104: NASA Moon Landing
NASA's The Great Moon Hoax
1. Ask the children for their ideas about the influence of the Moon on Earth and life.
- How does the Moon affect your daily life? Do you stop to look at it when you see it in the sky? Do you have a favorite story or book about the Moon that you like to tell or read? How does it help you keep track of time? The children may mention the Moon's personal meaning or its cultural significance in determining the Western months and the Chinese lunar year.
- What differences do you notice on a night with no Moon compared to a night where you can see the full Moon? It's brighter at night during the full Moon. Some children may mention that they play outside later on a night with a full Moon. Some advanced young astronomers in your audience may know that stars are more easily seen on a dark, moonless night. Encourage statements about personal observations, rather than generalizations they may have heard from others.
Ask older children to share what they learned about the Moon's gravitational pull in Spin! Day and Night; Steady Partner, Steady Seasons; and Dance of the Moon and Oceans.
- How does the Moon's gravitational attraction influence the Earth's spin and how long it takes to go through one day? Earth's spin became slower over time. Long ago, Earth was spinning much more quickly and had a shorter day. Now, Earth takes 24 hours — or, as we define it, one day— to spin around once.
- What might Earth be like if its tilt was not stabilized by the gravitational pull of the Moon? Our seasons would not be steady over long periods of history.
- What does the Moon's gravity do to our oceans? It pulls them toward it, creating tides.
Summarize that the Moon influences our personal and cultural activities, traditions, and stories. People are always looking for answers to their questions about the natural world, and it is easy to think that the Moon — which appears so near and bright — might shape our personal lives. Scientists have determined ways in which the Moon affects our Earth and life — and ways it does not.
- What do scientists do? They ask questions about our universe. They make predictions and do careful experiments in nature, laboratories, or using models to test their ideas.
- What questions do the children have about how the Moon influences Earth and life? Have they heard any urban myths about the Moon?
2. Together as a group or as a series of stations, investigate some of the Moon myths that may have come up in your conversation. Invite the children to think scientifically as they bust the myths!
2a. Have the children conduct the 10-minute investigation, Penny Moon, to investigate the Moon's motions and bust two common Moon myths: that the Moon doesn't spin and that is why we only see one side.
2b. Invite the children to test for themselves how the full Moon's larger appearance on the horizon is an optical illusion. Demonstrate a technique used by astronomers to make measurements and ask them to try it for themselves: Extend one arm to about eye level and look at your hand.
- How much of your hand will you need to use to cover the Moon in the sky? Accept all answers.
Challenge the children to stand in view of the eastern horizon near sunset during the full Moon. With the arm extended, the Moon can be covered by just the thumb. Invite them try again later in the evening or at a different time in the Moon's phases when it is higher in the sky. They will find that it can again be covered by a thumb extended at arm's length.
2c. Discuss whether or not the Moon has gravity, and then play one or more movies of an astronaut walking on the Moon. Assess their opinions following the movie(s).
- Now what do you think: Does the Moon have gravity? Yes.
- Does it have the same amount of gravity as Earth? Less.
3. Explain to the children that they will use their personal observations of the Moon and their investigations to determine the truth about the Moon's influence on Earth and life. They will think like a scientist and sort puzzle pieces containing statements about the Moon into two images. Pieces with false statements will be used to make a "Far-fetched Farside" image of the "back side" of the Moon, and those with true facts will be used to make a "True-Blue Blue Moon" image of the side of the Moon facing us. Distribute the puzzle pieces, Far-fetched Farside and True-blue Blue Moon, tape or glue sticks, and if desired, images of the lunar farside and nearside for the children to use as guides.
Regroup and discuss the true and false statements. Provide each child with a red marker. Have the children note for themselves on each of the "Far-fetched Farside" puzzle pieces that they are false. They may choose to cross them out, correct the statements to make them true, or write an "F" for false on each piece.
Instruct the children to add the completed puzzles as the next pages in the Marvel Moon comic book by clipping the book together at the upper left corner.
Reiterate that from a scientific viewpoint, the Moon can only influence Earth and life through its gravitational pull or the light it reflects from the Sun. Culturally and personally, the Moon continues to inspire us!
Invite the children to return for the next activity, My Take on the Moon, to share what they've learned about the Moon with their family and friends!