The distance between the Earth and the Moon was something I never really thought about. I see it floating up there, and because I can even see the features on the Moon with the naked eye I expect it to be similar to the videos I’ve seen with the moons around Saturn. Most people, I believe, share this idea and probably think reality is close to the image below.
On a History Channel show a while back they posed this question to people on the street. The host held up a couple of round objects (I think it was a baseball and a ping pong ball) and asked people to hold the ping pong ball away from the baseball to represent where they believed the Moon to be in relation to the Earth.
Most people held it rather close, similar to the image above.
For those not in the know, the Moon is 238,900 miles from the Earth. That still doesn’t register to me as being either a short distance or a long distance. When you hear about measurements in space it’s typically referenced in time measurements, as in the Alpha Centuri system is just over 4 light years from Earth. Now that’s a huge freaking distance, and it sounds it. Travelling at the speed of light, it would still take you 4 years to get there. NASA’s fastest spacecraft to date would take 78,000 years to get there. (This spacecraft will be arriving at Pluto in 2015. It will have taken 9 years to get there!)
So hearing a measurement in ‘miles’ when talking about space seems really really short.
Look at the image above again. Does it look close to what you had in mind? Scroll down to see a Jet Propulsion Laboratory image that really shows how close the Moon is to the Earth.
Boom. Mind blown.
Now think about all of the astronauts that flew out there. Yes, way out there. Way, way out there. I give them so much more credit now that I know the real distance they flew to stick a flag in some dust and to bring back a few rocks.
The next night you look into the sky and see the moon, think about how big that rock must be for us to be able to see it at the distance it is from us.