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Moon reflections

Hi Matt:

I was gazing at a full moon and a bunch of questions flooded my mind. How reflective is the surface of the moon? Does moonlight have a UV content? Would there be any beneficial effects from rolling out acres of highly reflective material like mylar on the surface of the moon to increase its reflectivity?

— Chris

The moon is surprisingly misunderstood, considering it’s the closest celestial object to Earth. For starters, it’s not as reflective as you might think. The moon has a low albedo (ability to reflect light) and only about 12 percent of visible light bounces off it. That’s about the same as weathered pavement, which is the best analogue we have on Earth for the lunar surface. The moon looks so bright in the night sky because, despite its grayish-brown color, it’s directly illuminated by the sun in the pitch-black sky.

But it’s not so simple as that. A full moon looks intensely bright, much more so than a waxing crescent, because the moon’s surface is “retro-reflective.” Lunar soil includes a small percentage of glass fragments — created by the heat of meteorite impacts — and those act like the tiny crystals in the reflective paint used for street signs. They reflect light directly back at the sun so, when Earth is directly between the sun and the moon, the apparent brightness of the moon swells.

If you covered the moon with something really shiny, it would be about five times brighter than it is now on any given night. It also reflects some ultraviolet radiation, as you can see if you look at a UV-sensitive photo of the moon. But it can’t give you a “moon burn.”

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Hi Matt:

I was gazing at a full moon and a bunch of questions flooded my mind. How reflective is the surface of the moon? Does moonlight have a UV content? Would there be any beneficial effects from rolling out acres of highly reflective material like mylar on the surface of the moon to increase its reflectivity?

— Chris

The moon is surprisingly misunderstood, considering it’s the closest celestial object to Earth. For starters, it’s not as reflective as you might think. The moon has a low albedo (ability to reflect light) and only about 12 percent of visible light bounces off it. That’s about the same as weathered pavement, which is the best analogue we have on Earth for the lunar surface. The moon looks so bright in the night sky because, despite its grayish-brown color, it’s directly illuminated by the sun in the pitch-black sky.

But it’s not so simple as that. A full moon looks intensely bright, much more so than a waxing crescent, because the moon’s surface is “retro-reflective.” Lunar soil includes a small percentage of glass fragments — created by the heat of meteorite impacts — and those act like the tiny crystals in the reflective paint used for street signs. They reflect light directly back at the sun so, when Earth is directly between the sun and the moon, the apparent brightness of the moon swells.

If you covered the moon with something really shiny, it would be about five times brighter than it is now on any given night. It also reflects some ultraviolet radiation, as you can see if you look at a UV-sensitive photo of the moon. But it can’t give you a “moon burn.”

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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