November 15, 2009 | Graham

NASA proves dad right – the moon’s not made of green cheese

Back in the early 60s my dad was chief engineer on ships in the Arctic Ocean servicing the Direct Early Warning (DEW) line which was a series of radars meant to give the US warning of ICBMs coming from Russia. This was very much Cold War time, although the chicken littles of the world should note that even though the war was cold the climate was hot enough for the Arctic Ocean to be navigable.
Dad would be gone for 9 months at a time, but he made up for his absence by composing a series of short fairy tales for my sister and me about the magical creatures that in those pre-global warming days still lived in the Arctic.
No doubt prompted by spy satellites he told us of the problems that the force for good in the north “Old Fiery Eyes” – the sun – keeping the evil denizens in check, especially during the long Artctic winter. His solution was to put an ice mirror in the sky – the moon – so that he could at least keep an eye on things.
This was a problem for the witches, so Old Mother Slipper Slopper, Denizen-in-Chief, devised a plan to cover the mirror with a large curtain. However the plan was foiled by a clever little sprite who added a shrinking potion to the cauldron of black dye meant to make the cloth impenetrable to light.
So every month would see the witches inch up over the moon with their blanket, only to find it wasn’t quite large enough, so then they would come down again to have another try, in the meantime allowing Mr Fiery eyes dominance of the night sky.
I always thought this was just a charming story, but now NASA appears to have proven dad right – there is ice on the moon!
It was a little strange having a dad who had done something so unusual, and an early lesson in cognitive dissonance. Dad used to be a big favourite at church functions with his slides of massive icebergs and photos of him swimming in the Arctic Ocean next to fur-clad Eskimos.
But just as now, when preconceptions were challenged, Australians were prone to believe what they wanted to, rather than the guy with the photographic evidence. So it was that my sister’s grade one teacher refused to believe that Eskimos in the Northwest Territories didn’t live in igloos anymore, but in pre-fabricated huts. It said they did in a book somewhere, and no amount of documentary evidence was going to prove otherwise.
One can see the same credulity playing itself out today in terms of what we believe about Arctic ice melt, and the endangered status of polar bears.
So who’s going to believe that the moon really has large stores of water?

Posted by Graham at 1:38 pm | Comments (4) |
Filed under: Environment


  1. Do you seriously doubt that the ice caps are showing signs of melting? That glaciers are retreating and that the fish are being exploited past recoverable populations? That many big species like tigers and orangutans are endangered?
    Do you also doubt the current record-setting high temperatures on our east coast? Or the water shortages in many cities?
    Climate change is just a symptom, but a very critical and real one. If you don’t think some very big things are seriously broke and need changing, I envy you.

    Comment by karin — November 16, 2009 @ 5:38 am

  2. I think we should stick to things that I said rather than things that I didn’t say. There is ice melt in the Arctic, but it is nowhere near as severe as being promoted, and is not exceptional. Recently we were treated to stories about new shipping routes in the Arctic Ocean caused by global warming when there have been shipping routes in the Arctic Ocean for decades.
    And polar bears are nowhere near extinct.
    We have enough environmental challenges to cope with without inventing some more.

    Comment by Graham Young — November 16, 2009 @ 8:58 am

  3. True, I brought up issues you didn’t mention. But the ice caps are melting faster, not slower than predicted even 5 years ago.
    We have a climate and environmental emergency, and we need to deal with it.
    Don’t know if I should be quoting Murdock’s news, because I haven’t paid for it, but they are pretty conservative:
    North Pole Ice Set To Melt By Summer 2020

    Comment by karin — November 18, 2009 @ 5:15 am

  4. Karin, as far as I know the ice balance in the world is static. A bit less at the north pole and a bit more at the south. And sea ice, last time I looked, was increasing in the Arctic compared to the last few years. I don’t think that you can just do a straight line projection on a couple of years and say that ice is going to disappear by a particular date because that is the rate that maintains over a short period of time.
    It may well disappear – the Artic has been ice free before – but reports of its demise appear to be greatly exaggerated.
    I don’t think there is much point arguing about what Fox News says. Whatever else one might think of them, they’re not generally regarded as a reliable source of scientific information.
    I keep a pretty close eye on these things and I have not seen any evidence that global warming is accelerating, only lots of claims. Indeed, when you have no rise in temperature for ten years you’d have to say that global warming has decelerated.

    Comment by Graham Young — November 18, 2009 @ 7:16 am

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