Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites

Planetarium director over the moon about new knowledge

Dec. 5 shows will examine developments in lunar expertise
by: Jim Clark Pat Hanrahan, planetarium director at Mt. Hood Community College, has no plans to travel to the moon, but wants to share his knowledge of it with East County folks during two Dec. 5 Sky Theater shows.

Pat Hanrahan wants to make one thing perfectly clear - he has no plans to loot Apollo landing sites on the moon.

'I certainly would respect them,' he said.

Planetarium director at Mt. Hood Community College, Hanrahan said NASA recently released guidelines calling on future lunar tourists to respect the sites where six manned Apollo missions landed from 1969 to 1972. The space agency is concerned lunar tourists may snap up various goodies left behind by the astronauts.

However, Hanrahan said NASA doesn't have to worry about him doing that, in part because he doesn't have the $150 million one private agency is reportedly charging per person to transport future moon travelers.

But Hanrahan does enjoy studying the moon and plans to share the newest knowledge about our nearest celestial neighbor with audiences at two shows in the college's Sky Theater on Monday, Dec. 5.

'The moon is a wonderful object with spectacular craters and mountains, but often ignored by astronomers,' Hanrahan said, adding the moon 'gets in the way' of stargazers looking into deep space.

'After the Apollo missions ended in 1972, there was little exploration of the moon,' he said. 'However, recent U.S. spacecraft, as well as those from Japan, China, India and Europe, have begun examining the moon with spectacular detail. The planetarium show will share some of their new findings.'

Hanrahan also said if skies are clear, Oregonians should be able to witness a lunar eclipse starting at 4:45 a.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, becoming a total eclipse by 6:06 a.m.

'The moon will be low in the western sky by the time the eclipse becomes total,' he said. 'It's best to find a location with a clear view of the western sky.'

Sheer lunacy

The moon has fascinated Hanrahan since he was young, and he actually witnessed the Apollo 14 launch from the Kennedy Space Center in southern Florida back in 1971. A graduate student at the time, he said he'll never forget the countdown and liftoff.

'I remember seeing it launch, and then a couple of minutes later getting hit by the shock wave of the launch, and it vibrated your chest,' he said.

The era of manned moon travel has since been eclipsed by that of unmanned craft, he said, noting our newest lunar knowledge comes courtesy of such ships as the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, or LRO, and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite, or LCROSS, both launched in June 2009, an event Hanrahan also witnessed.

The LCROSS discovered frozen water on the moon, Hanrahan said, 'but not as much as they were looking for.' Future moon tourists can be comforted in knowing that 'we can make fuel out of the water, and we can live off it.'

Thanks to all these unmanned spacecraft, we have better maps than ever before of the moon, more knowledge about its dark side and better ideas about its place in our solar system's history, he said. The prevailing theory is the moon was formed out of the Earth billions of years ago. Scientists theorize a Mars-sized body hit the relatively young Earth, blasting material into orbit, which eventually formed the moon.

Which brings up the question - if we want to find moon rocks, shouldn't we just look on Earth, since this is where the moon was born, so to speak? The moon's rocks are similar yet different from the earth's, Hanrahan said, but basalt - a common volcanic rock found throughout Oregon - is made up of material similar to moon rocks of the lunar seas.

And speaking of rocks, Hanrahan noted that a pretty big one just missed us when an aircraft-carrier-sized asteroid flew past Earth on Nov. 8. The object, known as 2005 YU55, came within 202,000 miles of Earth, closer than the moon, which orbits at an average distance of 239,000 miles.

Hanrahan said folks should be glad the giant rolling stone failed to land on Earth.

'There would've been a number of extinctions,' he said. 'And we might have been one of them.'

If you go

WHAT: 'New Views of the Old Moon'

WHEN: 7 and 8:15 p.m. Monday, Dec. 5

WHERE: Planetarium Sky Theater, Mt. Hood Community College, 26000 S.E. Stark St.

COST: $2 for public, free for college students. Parking is $3.

INFO: Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit mhcc.edu/planetarium; NASA: nasa.gov.

MORE: Individuals requiring accommodations because of a disability should call 503-491-6923 or 503-491-7670 (TDD)