Exploring the Far Side of the Moon

Help your classes better understand how our nearest celestial neighbor affects our world.

By Elijah Ammen


The landing of the NASA rover, Curiosity, on Mars has created a media and pop culture frenzy that has refueled interest in space exploration. Not only is the rover improved in design, but it is improved in social media. You can visit the Curiosity Facebook page or follow Curiosity on Twitter. It is truly a rover for the modern generation.

But with the buzz over Mars, many people forget our closest celestial neighbor, who influences our planet in dramatic ways, and whose surface has only barely been explored. The moon, the subject of six U.S. landings and numerous satellites from various countries, has remained largely unexplored and unused, with the exception of a few testing instruments left by astronauts. 

The far side of the moon has never been explored in person--and it wasn't until Apollo 8 that the U.S. actually photographed the far side of the moon (for more on the Apollo Program, check out this lesson). The far side of the moon remains one of the best potential sites for improved astronomical equipment, particularly telescopes, as scientists seek to peer further into the universe.

The Far (not Dark) Side of the Moon 

The far side of the moon is usually confused with the dark side of the moon--which at best conjures up Pink Floyd's iconic rock album, and at worst, the third Transformers movie. The dark side is ever changing--whichever side of the moon is not changing is known as the dark side; however, there is a side of the moon that is never directly visible from Earth, because of a phenomenon known as tidal locking.

Tidal locking is where the moon rotates at the same speed that it orbits around the Earth--thus always showing the same side to the Earth. If you're a visual person, this YouTube video demonstrates tidal locking using a tennis ball and an orange.

The phases and tidal effects of the moon are great places to start with your classes on how the moon practically affects our world. You can use lessons like this one on the phases of the moon or this one that also includes easy illustrations of moon phases and eclipses. Another lesson on how the moon affects living organisms, humorously titled, "The Moon Made Me Do It," helps learners understand facts about tides, lunar cycles, and gravitational pull. Also, for some basic facts on the night sky and some excellent true/false questions dispelling many space myths, check out this article

Scaffolding Up 

Objects in space lend themselves to mathematical calculations that can easily be scaffolded up in complexity. The following lessons have a strong mathematical focus with specific equations used in each category.

The real-life application of these concepts allows high schoolers to practice math in a meaningful way, and in a subject area that many enjoy. The more you understand why a formula is important, the more willing you are to learn.


The Moon Made Me Do It

Explore facts about tides, lunar cycles, and gravitational pull, and how they affect the Earth.

Moon Phases and Eclipses

A lesson on the phases of the moon that has a simple assessment at the end where pupils sketch the phases and explain why they look a certain way at each stage.

The Density of the Moon

This worksheet has four problems and answers where learners find the density of the moon and other materials when given basic information on the mass and radius of the moon.

Gravity and the Sun, Moon, and Earth

Balance visuals with detailed formulas on gravity by comparing how the Moon is gravitationally pulled by both the Earth and the Sun.

Distance in Space

This is a great practical visualization where learners scale the distance between planets in order to see the true comparison of distance.

Planets and the Speed of Light

Here is a lesson that includes an article for analysis and questions (with an answer key) on using the speed of light to measure distance.

The Moon's Atmosphere

This worksheet makes pupils analyze the elements in the Moon's atmosphere--which is a great chemistry tie-in.