October 7, 1959, the Russian Luna 3 space probe photographed the dark side of the moon for the very first time. An astonshing technological feat, the Luna 3 probe had been launched from the North Pole and took 29 pictures, of which either 12 or 17 were transmitted back to earth. The Russians mapped and named the back side, notably the largest sea which they named the Mare Moscoviense, the Sea of Moscow.
The Earth’s moon holds a special place in the human heart: it exists not only as our nearest celestial neighbor, it is also one of the richest sources of metaphor and poetry. Despite Shakespeare’s denigration that “the moon’s an arrant thief, And her pale fire she snatches from the sun,” the moon has a long history in literature, poetry and song. The word itself comes from Old English mona, but the etymology is so rich, I’ll quote www.etymonline.com: from Proto-Germanic *mænon- (see also Old Saxon, Old High German mano, Old Frisian mona, Old Norse mani, Dutch maan, German Mond, Gothic mena , all meaning moon), from Proto-Indo-European *me(n)ses- “moon, month” (cf. Sanskrit. masah “moon, month;” Avestan ma, Persian mah, Armenian mis “month;” Greek mene “moon,” men “month;” Latin mensis “month;” Old Church Slavonic meseci, Lithuanian menesis “moon, month;” Old Irish mi, Welsh mis, Breton miz “month”), probably from base *me- “to measure,” in reference to the moon’s phases as the measure of time. In Greek, Italic, Celtic, Armenian the cognate words now mean only “month.” First used to describe the satellites of other planets 1665.
Interesting that so many cultures have used the moon for millenia as a method of keeping time-the lunar calendar is just enough off from the Earth’s yearly orbit that the two have nothing in common. Or to quote Shakespeare again, when Juliet chides Romeo in Roneo and Juliet when Romeo offers to swear his love by the moon:
O, swear not by the moon, the inconstant moon,
That monthly changes in her circled orb,
Lest that thy love prove likewise variable.
Russian, a language with a huge debt to Ancient Greek (via Old Bulgarian), uncharacteristically takes its word for moon
not from μενη
but the Latin luna
Special thanks to www.etymonline.com, a fantastic etymological resource. If you love words please check them out.
Images of the dark side of the moon by NASA from the Apollo missions, and the lower photo from the LUNA 3 mission. Congratulations to the Russian Space Agency on an important and significant anniversary!