QuickCheck: Are shadows darker on the moon?

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin walks on the surface of the moon near the leg of the lunar module Eagle during the Apollo 11 mission in 1969. Mission commander Neil Armstrong took this photograph with a 70mm lunar surface camera. Notice how the shadows at Aldrin's feet are almost pitch black.

THE celestial body orbiting Earth has inspired myths, superstitions and misconceptions for thousands of years. From men on the moon to full moon-induced lunacy, humans have spun tales about this mysterious ball of rock since ancient times.

One such "moon myth" is that shadows are darker on the moon than they are on Earth. Is this actually true?



In simple terms, a shadow forms when light is blocked by an opaque object.

However, a shadow is not simply the lack of light. Light source, intensity, distance and many other factors affect how defined a shadow appears.

Even the most well-defined shadows are not pitch-black; observe any shadow and you will notice that you can still see the texture of the surface on which the shadow forms.

This is all thanks to the refraction of light in the Earth’s atmosphere. This phenomenon, known as Rayleigh scattering, allows objects that are not in direct lighting to still be relatively visible. It’s also the reason why we can see little details within a shadow!

On the moon, however, there is no air or atmosphere to scatter light. As such, areas where sunlight hits are extremely bright, and areas where shadows form are eerily dark – almost like little voids.

As much as they might appear like slices of darkness itself, moon shadows are not completely black. The rounded surface of the moon does gently reflect light, meaning objects in shadow are still ever-so-slightly illuminated.

According to NASA, shadows were one of the first things Neil Armstrong noticed when he landed on the moon.

"It's quite dark here in the shadow (of the lunar module) and a little hard for me to see that I have good footing," he had allegedly told the team on Earth.

Buzz Aldrin concurred, saying that "continually moving back and forth from sunlight to shadow (on the moon) should be avoided because it's going to cost you some time in perception ability."


1. https://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2006/03jan_moonshadows

2. https://www.universetoday.com/93991/why-are-lunar-shadows-so-dark/

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