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FAA Flight Instructor, CFI, CFII. MEII
Cert. No. 602054488
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020 Aircraft General Knowledge
040 Menschl. Leistungsverm.
070 Operational Procedure
Two sides of the Moon
The Moon is in synchronous rotation, meaning that it keeps nearly the same face turned towards the Earth at all times. Early in the Moon's history, its rotation slowed and became locked in this configuration as a result of frictional effects associated with tidal deformations caused by the Earth.
Long ago when the Moon spun much faster, its tidal bulge preceded the Earth-Moon line because it couldn't "snap back" its bulges quickly enough to keep its bulges in line with Earth. The rotation swept the bulge beyond the Earth-Moon line. This out-of-line bulge caused a torque, slowing the Moon spin, like a wrench tightening a nut. When the Moon's spin slowed enough to match its orbital rate, then the bulge always faced Earth, the bulge was in line with Earth, and the torque disappeared. That is why the Moon rotates at the same rate as it orbits and we always see the same side of the Moon.
Small variations (libration) in the angle from which the Moon is seen allow about 59% of its surface to be seen from the earth (but only half at any instant).
The side of the Moon that faces Earth is called the near side, and the opposite side the far side. The far side should not be confused with the dark side, which is the hemisphere that is not being illuminated by the Sun at a given moment (this may be the side facing the Earth, as it is once a month during the New Moon phase). The far side of the Moon was first photographed by the Soviet probe Luna 3 in 1959. One distinguishing feature of the far side is its almost complete lack of maria.