DARK SKIES: Our billion-year-old neighbour
LIKE the rest of the solar system, the Moon was formed 4.5 billion years ago.
Back then the Moon was a lot closer to Earth than now, and from the strong gravitation pull of our planet, black molten magma was brought from its hot interior to the surface and like a giant tsunami of molten lava, flowed over the lunarscape, swallowing and filling gaping holes, cracks and low-lying areas.
As this flow slowed down, it cooled to basalt.
The Moon, having no atmosphere to burn up incoming projectiles, allowed millions of meteors and asteroids - some as large as 150km in diameter - and comets to bombard its surface, leaving behind millions of craters ranging from a few metres wide to a crater on the far side spanning nearly 1000km.
Lunar cratering stopped about 3 billion years ago.
One of the first things the Italian astronomer Galileo looked at with his small telescope in 1610 was the Moon.
He drew what he saw and the dark areas he called 'mare' as he thought they were 'seas' of water.
We know now after many years of study with lunar probes, and from the Apollo Lunar missions between 1969-72, the Moon is a dead, inhospitable neighbour that without appropriate protection, deadly gamma rays would fry you and the 120C heat during the day and -170C at night would be impossible to live in.
Does the Moon have any water?
NASA's Lunar Remote Orbiting Camera, which has been mapping the Moon for the past seven years down to 1m resolution, has detected some form of water-ice in deep, dark, cold craters at the Moon's north and south poles that haven't had sunlight for billions of years.
This water-ice is believed to come from the impacts of comets that contain rock, carbon, methane, carbon dioxide, interstellar dust and water-ice.
Upon impact, forming huge bowl-shaped craters, the material melted then froze from the deadly coldness of space.
Today it is widely accepted by many geophysicists that 90 per cent of water and life on our planet came from comets.
Could there be life as we know it in those dark, icy craters?
Who knows, but until we can send a probe into those dark craters, we can only surmise.
The best time to view and take photos of the Moon is three days before, on, and four days after the first quarter.
With so many telescopes and Moon smartphone apps available, there is no excuse not to be fascinated by our nearest celestial neighbour.
We'll be talking about lunar photography in an upcoming article.
In the meantime, get to an observatory and look at this ancient, soundless world up close that has laid undisturbed for billions of years.
If you have a space question or to book a stargazing night at the observatory, email firstname.lastname@example.org or phone James on 0427 961 391. Website: www.kingaroyobservatory.com.