Things we get wrong about the Moon

It’s the Earth’s only satellite, and it’s intrigued and confused people on our planet for millennia.

It’s (probably) safe to say the Moon isn’t made of cheese, but does it affect our sanity? Is it getting closer to us? Does it really have a dark side?

We’ve taken some myths and legends about the moon and debunked them for you.

Is there a man in the moon?

Have you ever thought when you look at the Moon, that it’s looked back at you? Don’t worry, you’re not going round the bend - lots of people do, and it’s been called “the man in the Moon”.

It’s not just a person though. All over the world, people see different things on the rocky surface: a rabbit, a pair of hands, even a toad. So why do such a strange collection of creatures call the moon home?

Well of course we know they don't. The moon has a number of craters on its surface, and different ones can be seen from different parts of Earth. These shapes can create pictures in our minds, as we fill in the blanks and decide that it looks most similar to something familiar to us. This process is called pareidolia - it’s why Jesus is found on slices of toast so often.

Crater 308 on the moon's surfaceNASA
It doesn't look so much like a person up close, does it?

Is the moon made of cheese?

You may have first heard this when you watched Wallace and Gromit as a kid, but this fable actually started long before the Wensleydale-loving duo brought it to the big screen.

The myth is thought to originally have come from religious folklore, but the phrase ‘the moone is made o greene cheese’ can be found written in the Proverbs of John Heywood (where he also coins famous phrases such as the more, the merrier) in 1546. It’s used nowadays as a way of expressing something that’s beyond fantastical, something that no one will ever believe.

NASA is even in on the joke - on April Fool’s Day in 2002 they posted a picture of an expiration date on the moon that they said they’d captured using the Hubble Telescope. They said at the time: "To be cautious, we should completely devour the Moon by tomorrow.”

Does the moon affect people’s sanity?

For years, people have believed that the cycle of the moon has had an impact on our psyche. The word lunacy even derives from Luna, the Latin for Moon. In 18th century England, you could get a lighter sentence if you said you were under the influence of a full Moon when committing a crime, and even as recently as the 1940s did a soldier plead for leniency in a murder trial due to ‘moon madness’. The link with criminality has stuck around for decades since: in 2007, extra police officers were deployed in Brighton during full moons to prevent a feared upswing in crime.

One popular theory linking the full moon to insanity is that the moon affects the tides by pulling water in and out, and so it could be doing the same thing to the water in our bodies and brains. But this has been proved to be entirely false - besides, if it were true, it would exert the same amount of gravitational force whether it was full or not, given that the Moon remains the same size at all points during its cycle, just with different amounts of shadow.

Does the moon affect menstrual cycles?

Super Blood Wolf MoonNASA
The last Super Blood Wolf Moon happened in January 2019.

Another common myth is that the moon affects menstrual cycles. During the red blood full Moon in January 2019, lots of women were convinced it was messing with their periods, and even giving them magical powers.

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But again, this is demonstrably false. The only reason there’s any link at all is because menstrual and moon cycles are very similar in length, meaning some women will happen to start or finish their cycle on a full moon. Nothing more, nothing less.

Is there a dark side of the moon?

It’s true that we can only see one side of the Moon from Earth. However, it’s definitely not the case that the other side is the dark side, even if it does make a good name for an album.

The truth is, the Moon has day and night, just as the Earth does. They last two weeks, so even though parts will be in darkness for quite a while, it will then see sunlight for a similar amount of time.

Is the moon getting closer to us?

the moon above the earthNASA
Loving someone to the moon and back will be a much bigger deal in a couple billion years.

No - in fact, it’s the complete opposite.

NASA says that the Moon is moving away from the Earth at a rate of about one inch per year.

The further the Moon moves away, the slower our planet rotates, which in a couple billion years, could have damaging effects on our seasons, making our winters Arctic and our summers unbearably hot. But we don’t have to worry about that just yet.

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