Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Mommy, Why is the Moon Orange?

"Why is the moon orange, Mommy?"

This question came up the other day while we were driving (at night) and we saw the coolest, hugest, bright orange moon at the end of the road. It was so amazing!

We found out later that the moon gets orange for the same reason that the sun (and sky) gets orange when it's setting - because of refraction. When the moon (or sun) is so close to the horizon, the light has to travel through a lot more of the atmosphere before it gets to us, and in the process a lot of the light rays get bounced around, or refracted. Hence, mostly only the longest rays make it to our eyes (reds, oranges, etc.).

It helped a lot that he has a general understanding of the concepts of light and color from reading The Magic School Bus Makes a Rainbow (many, many times). This was his favorite book for a while, which [confession] frustrated me at the time because it was kind of long (and he would ask to read it multiple times a day), but I suppose the time investment was a good thing!

And about the huge-looking thing? Well, I had no idea why the moon (and sun) looked so much bigger at some times than at others, and this particular incident inclined me to find out. My best guess was some sort of magnification effect, but I guess that it's all just an optical illusion! I was totally shocked to find this out but I guess our brain can play some pretty amazing tricks on us. I read this article at HowStuffWorks, which had some ideas for experimenting more with the phenomena of optical illusions (called size constancy in reference to the "moon illusion").

I didn't really explain this part to Hunter yet. But I suppose that, next time it comes up, I'll have some sort of feasible explanation for him.

"If I beheld the sun when it shined, or the moon walking in brightness..."
Job 31:26

Hunter is 4 years, 11 months old

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