Thursday, 4 October 2012
The Moon is the fifth largest satellite in the Solar System. It is the largest natural satellite of a planet in the Solar System relative to the size of its primary, having 27% the diameter and 60% the density of Earth, resulting in 1⁄81 its mass. The Moon is the second densest satellite after Io, a satellite of Jupiter. It is in synchronous rotation with Earth, always showing the same face with its near side marked by dark volcanic maria that fill between the bright ancient crustal highlands and the prominent impact craters. The Moon is the brightest object in the sky after the Sun, although its surface is actually very dark, with a reflectance similar to that of coal. Its prominence in the sky and its regular cycle of phases have, since ancient times, made the Moon an important cultural influence on language, calendars, art and mythology. The Moon's gravitational influence produces the ocean tides and the minute lengthening of the day. The Moon's current orbital distance, about thirty times the diameter of the Earth, causes it to appear almost the same size in the sky as the Sun, allowing it to cover the Sun nearly precisely in total solar eclipses. This matching of apparent visual size is a coincidence. Earlier in Earth's history, the Moon was closer to Earth, and would have had an apparent visual size greater than that of the sun.