One Moon, Many Moons
& 20 Years Without Asimov
Many didn’t understand the whole of his work as he’s left a mark in so many fields. But his influence has only grown stronger and the fruits of his labor have in fact enhanced the human spirit and experience on this planet. We’re talking of course about Eyzik Yudovitš Asimov, who didn’t wait for the new millennium to pass away, two decades ago today. He, of all people, had already built the future by the time he signed off.
It’s just fitting that today Passover begins, a holiday dear to his Jewish heritage, and it’s Good Friday too, the two thousand anniversary of the death of yet another Jew, Jesus Christ. But since Isaac Asimov was an atheist, there’s also a glorious full Moon up in the sky tonight, almost in retribution to the many writings he dedicated to what some thought was our sole satellite, but in fact, it is not.
As it turns out, an estimated million objects regularly pay a visit to our space backyard, and some hang around for a bit longer than others, caught on earth’s gravity, only to break free again and get lost. Some are tiny asteroids, pieces of rock, even bus-sized minimoons that can be seen with a naked eye.
The new evidence only reaffirms the fact that the space that surrounds us is several million times busier that even the busiest Manhattan expressway in the afternoon of a Friday like today. It also reassures us that the Moon is that kind of rare friend, the one that sticks around, say, some 4,5 billion years according to the most recent research.
For we do know now much more than we did at the time Asimov was around, writing his books and listening to his favorite Gilbert and Sullivan operettas. Less than a month ago, NASA compiled a short video made with HD images and observations of the Moon taken by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter.
He didn’t need to wait for the new century to dawn, but we’re sure he’d have enjoyed watching the new footage and the kind of theories that have been percolating since much before even his time about the origins of the moon. But we’d also be a bit sadden too, with what we’ve done with the place, and the fact that the U.S. has all but abandoned any serious space exploration programs.
One thing is for sure, though: being as it may, we’re kind of glad he was not around when a presidential candidate, in a recent speech that can be only be qualified as out of joint, proclaimed his egomaniac wish to build a colony on the Moon. The theme that was once dear to Asimov, has no place among the props used by a professional lobbyist with no discernible political future.
THE BICENTENNIAL MIND
One of the greatest and most prolific American sci-fi and science writers of all time, Asimov was actually born in Petrovichi, Russia, either in 1919 or 1920, it was never determined which. It didn’t matter. Few years after his arrival in the U.S. with his parents, in 1923, he began writing what would become a five-hundred book collection, that includes works of fiction, science. mathematics and history.
Among them, there’s an instructive book about Selene and countless essays and papers about its possible origin and impact on us. Curiously, the one that also uses Moon on its title, The Tragedy of the Moon, is actually a compilation of essays about different subjects. Just for good measure, though, he counterbalanced the dramatic name right on the second story: The Triumph of the Moon.
His award-winning science fiction books are probably what will assure Asimov’s enduring legacy for generations to come. He created new worlds and, to better describe them, new words such as robotics and positronic brain, conceived with all shrewd scientific accuracy and easy readability that anyone could possibly muster.
Books such as the Foundation and the I, Robot series, for example, which he spent his life writing and tying them together, are wonders of what used to be called literature of anticipation. On display throughout, are his encyclopedic knowledge of astrophysics, chemistry mathematics, and his flair for a good story, making them a popular quasi rite of passage for avid teenager readers.
The enigmatic sage of Brooklyn, who served in the Army and wrote about rocket ships and distant planets, was startlingly afraid to fly, and hardly did it so during his lifetime. And only several years after his death of heart and kidney complications, his family disclosed that he was HIV positive, having contracted the disease that would ultimately kill him in a blood transfusion in the 1980s.
NO PLACE TO RAISE THE KIDS
As for our closest neighbor, presumably lifeless and brutally cold, it’s actually farther from us that we’re led to believe. In fact, asked to demonstrate how far is in proportion the Moon from Earth, most people wrongly settle for a much closer figurative distance than the 250 thousand miles between the two bodies.
Fittingly, six landings and thousands of years of observations have failed, so far, to uncover some of the most enduring mysteries of the Moon. Such as the fact that, even though it has no magnetic fields, rocks brought from there are indeed magnetized. There may be vaporized water under its surface, and vapor clouds have been observed. No one knows, though, where all that water possibly could be.
Also, an unsettling and seemingly impossible theory refuses to go away: that the Moon may be hollow. Some forty miles under its vast planes, there’s a titanium-like layer of circular masses, that many like to imagine are artificially made. A hollowness underneath would explain the relatively easy way any major impact on the surface causes the whole Moon to vibrate like a bell.
Also, for a place where there has never been any volcano activity, the Moon seems oddly active geologically, with hundreds of “moonquakes” recorded each year that cannot be attributed to meteor strikes. On top of that, the fact that it has so many craters throughout its surface leads scientists to believe that at least most of them were created internally.
As for its origins, many theories popular during Asimov’s lifetime have been disproved. It’s not a chunk of our own planet that got away; it never collided with Earth, and it wasn’t captured by its gravity. What actually is is something that will only be proven conclusively with the establishment of, you guessed it, colonies.
THE PULL OF MAGICAL THINKING
That’s exactly the point where what’s not known about the Moon seems to attract a whole slew of fringe thinking and beliefs, that unfortunately have had lasting power for as long as science hasn’t been able to disprove them. Which doesn’t mean that any of them make any sense, and the contribution of fuzzy thinking politicians is just another blow to serious research on the subject.
From the Moon as an alien spaceship, parked at that precise location since a much more recent time than its geological origins, to the origin of the flashes that have defied explanation so far, the ‘Lunar Bridge,’ the ‘Obelisks,’ and the “Tower,’ are some of the ideas that will remain around until we actually send specific missions to investigate the sights and learn better.
But coming to think of it, if you ever wonder where a term such as lunatic or mooning or others, mostly pejorative, that related to the Moon, may have had their own origins in the fact that it’s fascinating disk, highly visible up in the night sky half of each month has exercised its own pull on our imagination.
So for some, it drives them to study and research and to inquire and to wonder, to even elaborate some possible working theories, to support further research, without making any permanent assumptions. But for others, the Moon’s many mysteries has to have something to do with them, personally, and only them know the real truth behind it all.
For those, no amount of empiric observation will do it. While inquiring minds are happy that there’s usually more questions at any given stage of life, than definitive answers, the real cake for the Cartesian-challenged is to be able to settle in an overall explanation that will give all the meaning they long for their existence.
The fact to the matter is, we don’t know, and that’s what drives us further. We may create our stories and our myths, our tales of redemption and our beliefs in the afterlife. But what really counts is the here and now. And tonight all seems to indicate that’s going to be a beautiful full Moon night, for lovers and for dreamers alike. And for everybody else too.
So, however you find it fit to spend your time, it’s your business. Neither the Moon nor the stars, or our own beautiful blue planet really care about it. But their own existence, per se, without hidden meanings or secret codes, is here for anyone to enrich themselves with it. After all, the Moon, the Earth, Isaac Asimov and all of us are but stardust. And that’s where we’ll all go back to someday.