The Far Side of the Moon

The same side of the Moon always faces Earth. So what's on the far side?

By Bob Berman
September 2, 2020
Near Side Moon Far Side Moon

Near Side of the Moon on the left and Far Side of the Moon on the right.

NASA

We never see the far side of the Moon or what some people mistakenly call the “dark side.” So what can we see on the lunar far side? Does it looks identical to the near side to Earth?

First, it’s important to know that we always see the same side of the Moon from Earth’s surface—what we call the “near” side of the Moon versus the “far” side of the Moon. 

This is because the Moon’s orbital period is the same as its rotation around its axis. Our planet’s satellite is tidally locked to Earth, which means it rotates on its axis at the exact same rate that it orbits Earth. 

Discoving the Far Side of the Moon

On October 4,1959, Russia’s Luna 3 spacecraft was launched towards the Moon, where it later became the first vehicle to send back the very first images of the Moon’s far side.

Surprise!

The far side looks a lot like the near side. But not exactly.

  • Like the side of the Moon we see, the far side of the Moon is also lit up by the Sun or it’s in shade. It’s not “dark” just because we can’t see it. Every part of the Moon has both day and night in half–month intervals. 
     
  • On the near side, we see large, dark seas of cooled lava, called maria, that cover a substantial fraction of the surface. But this lava is absent on the far side which, instead, features many impact craters—scars received during its first few hundred million years of life.

    We now know that 35% of the Moon’s Earth-facing hemisphere is covered with molten material, but only 1% made it to the far side. The far side’s crust is also significantly thicker than the near side, perhaps due to the number of impact craters.

luna_0_full_width.jpeg
Image: First Photo of the Lunar Farside. Credit: NASA.

Seeing the Far Side 

Since 1959, several missions by NASA and other space agencies have shown us more of the Moon’s far side. 

In December of 1968, the Moon’s far side was finally seen with human eyes by the crew of Apollo 8 during their historic circumlunar flight.

far-side-apollo_full_width.jpg
Image: Rough terrain on the lunar far side photographed by Apollo 8. Credit: NASA.

Below is another image of the fully-illuminated far side of the Moon that is not visible from Earth. These were captured by NASA’s DSCOVR satellite on July 15, 2015. Twice a year, the satellite is about to capture images of the Moon and Earth together as its own orbit crosses the orbital plane of the Moon. 

On the far side, you can easily see the Mare Moscoviense (Sea of Moscow) and the Tsiolkovskiy crater. Many features on the far side of the Moon retain the Russian names given to them by Soviet scientists.

Note that the Earth’s North Pole is toward the upper left, based on the angle of the satellite’s camera.

The Far Side or the Dark Side?

Apologies to Pink Floyd: There is no continually dark “side” of the Moon.

Both near and dark sides have the “phases” of the Moon with the same cycle of illumination.

Here’s a fun fact:  It’s our near side of the Moon that actually reflects less light than the far side because our side has lots of dark, smooth, low-lying plains (from ancient seas of molten magma) that do not reflect the light as well.

So, the near side is the dark(er) side!  Click here to read about the “Near Side of the Moon.”

Below are images of the Moon. The near side is on the left/top and the far side is on the right/bottom Which side looks darker to you?

near-side.jpgfar-side-moon.jpg

Tips on Viewing the Moon

Look at the near side yourself! If you have binoculars, look at the Moon during dusk before the Moon is too bright in the dark sky. You should be able to see those dark lunar lowlands.

The best time to see the Moon is not during the full Moon. It’s easiest to see during the Moon’s crescent or gibbous phase. See my post on the Quarter Moon.

Check your local Moon Calendar to know tonight’s Moon phase

Source: 

The 2005 Old Farmer's Almanac

SUPER DISCOUNT!

Celebrate Almanac Tradition and Save 57% with a Charter Membership in The Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club

Best Value Club

You are invited to join The Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club at a Special Savings!

An incredible value—57% off for you!
For traditional Almanac fans:
Just $29.97! You save 57%!

Get the best value for your Almanac dollar with these essentials. Claim you Old Farmer’s Almanac Best Value Club Charter Membership today!

YES, sign me up now!

Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

the dark side

The dark side might have meant the hidden or secret side.

Dark Side of the Moon

It's still a great album.

The daily OFA calendar

The daily OFA calendar carries the second full moon of this August as the Blue Moon but the Garden Calendar says it's the RED MOON as well. Any reason for this..?

Hi, Tom, The right-hand pages

The Editors's picture

Hi, Tom, The right-hand pages of The Old Farmer's Almanac and our other products list Native American or colonial names for the full Moon. It is our style to list an alternate name for the second full Moon in a month if one occurs. In this case, the Full Red Moon, which is an Algonquin name. The name Full Red Moon can look like a mistake when considering the term "Blue Moon," which is commonly defined as the second full Moon in a month, such as occurs this August. We could have labeled the full Moon on August 31 a Blue Moon, but this would not have been a Native American or colonial name, and we wanted to be consistent. (In future, we will keep this in mind as we select an alternate name!) --Your OFA editors

Ok I'm really lost now... Is

Ok I'm really lost now... Is this month a waxing or waning moon??? Someone please help.... Thanks I really enjoy this site always something to read and the books you can't put down....Cormac
cmccarthy47@cox.net

Hi Cormac, Thanks for

The Editors's picture

Hi Cormac, Thanks for commenting! The Moon goes through one whole cycle in about 30 days or so. Most months will have one Full moon, but some have two on occasion. Today is the Full Sturgeon Moon. Until it reaches Full, it is waxing (in other words, the portion of the Moon that you see is becoming larger.) After the Full moon, it is waning. Hope that helps! You can check out our Moon phase calendar page for more information, and a visual: http://www.almanac.com/moon/calendar/NH/Peterborough/2010-05

There are 2 full moons in

There are 2 full moons in December (2 and 31). Are each known as the Full Cold Moon? Is there a special name associated with the second full moon of a month?

A Blue Moon is the second

The Editors's picture

A Blue Moon is the second full Moon in a month with two full Moons. A Blue Moon will occur on average every two or three years. In December, we tend to call the first full Moon the "Full Cold Moon" and the second Moon the "Full Long Nights Moon," also a name used by Native American tribes. These names, and some variations, were used by the Algonquin tribes from New England to Lake Superior.

Are there names for the two

Are there names for the two upcoming full moons on August 31, 2012 and July 31, 2015?