The Dark Side of the Moon

FarSideOfMoonIt’s that time of year where I’m not sure anymore what is real or not. Are the Flaming Lips really releasing an album called Flaming Side of the Moon, to be played at the same time as Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon, or is that an elaborate April Fool’s joke? The full stream is available, so it at least exists in some form.

The original Pink Floyd album is the subject of an interesting conspiracy theory, somewhat related to the idea of this new Flaming Lips album, called “Dark Side of the Rainbow”. Apparently if you play The Dark Side of the Moon album while watching The Wizard of Oz, the music synchs with the film. Psychologists have dismissed this theory on the basis of confirmation bias: viewers will remember the moments where the film and music are perfectly in synch, but not the moments where it doesn’t match.

But no The Dark Side of the Moon conspiracy is as wild and wacky as those about the actual dark side of our Earth’s moon.

The moon always faces the Earth with the same side, so that we never really see the other side of it. It’s not literally dark – it receives light from the sun – but we just don’t see that side of the moon very often. The more accurate term, Pink Floyd albums aside, is “far side of the moon”.

Anything we can’t see evokes mystery and questions. What is there, on the far side? Well, it looks like the image at the top of this post. That photo was taken by Apollo 16 in April 1972 (a year before Pink Floyd released their album The Dark Side of the Moon), but the very first photo of the far side of the moon was taken in 1959, by the Soviet probe Luna 3. It was a Soviet win for the “first picture of far side of moon” component of the Space Race, but the Cold War era also led to some interesting conspiracy theories, such as the suggestion that the USSR was using the far side of the moon as a secret nuclear testing site. Because apparently the country with the largest area of land in the world had no remote space of their own and thought that the moon would be an efficient location. Sure.

There’s a similar conspiracy theory involving a Nazi moon base, but the most popular far side of the moon conspiracy theory involves not the current Earthly enemy-du-jour, but aliens. That’s even more unlikely, and therefore a source of material for many lengthy, Comic Sans-typefaced websites. The general idea seems to be that an advanced species of alien made it undetected throughout the outer layers of our solar system, all the way to Earth, but then they stopped right before landing on the surface of our planet and built a secret base on the hidden side of the moon instead, where they have been for a really long time now without bothering us and without us noticing – except for NASA who are in on it because it’s a government conspiracy, obviously. Totally plausible.

Aside from fictional aliens with unclear missions, would anyone really want to go to the far side of the moon? I mean, what’s the point, right? There’s nothing there, and you can’t even see your home planet from that side.

True, but you can get a very clear and undisturbed radio signal from outer space from there.

Cosmologists can learn a lot about the history of the early universe by using radio telescopes that pick up cosmic background radiation. That is quite difficult to detect, and it’s not made any easier by interference from the Earth’s ionosphere, as well as our ever increasing signals from satellites and FM radio stations. To avoid those sources of noise, researchers from the University of Colorado, MIT, and other institutes are now looking into the possibility of building a radio telescope on the far side of the moon. It’s a long-term project, but within the next few decades the proverbial dark side of the moon may turn out to be enlightening after all.

Photo by NASA

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