What’s on the far side of the Moon?

Looking up at the silvery orb of the Moon, you might recognize familiar shadows and shapes on its face from one night to the next. You see the same view of the Moon our early ancestors did as it lighted their way after sundown.

Only one side of the spherical Moon is ever visible from Earth – it wasn’t until 1959 when the Soviet Spacecraft Luna 3 orbited the Moon and sent pictures home that human beings were able to see the “far side” of the Moon for the first time.

Comparison of humanity’s first glimpse of the lunar far side and the same view thanks to LRO data 50 years later. NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio, CC BY
A phenomenon called tidal locking is responsible for the consistent view. The Earth and its Moon are in close proximity and thus exert significant gravitational forces on each other. These tidal forces slow the rotations of both bodies. They locked the Moon’s rotation in sync with its orbital period relatively soon after it formed – as a product of a collision between a Mars-sized object and the proto-Earth, 100 million years after the solar system coalesced.

[embedded content] The Moon’s orbital period and rotational period are the same length of time.
Now the Moon takes one trip around the Earth in the same amount of time it takes to make one rotation around its own axis: about 28 days. From Earth, we always see the same face of the Moon; from the Moon, the Earth stands still in the sky.

Buzz Aldrin descends from the lunar module to the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969. JSC/NASA, CC BY
The near side of the Moon is well studied because we can see it. The astronauts landed on the near side of the Moon so they could communicate with NASA here on Earth. All of the samples from the Apollo missions are from the near side.

Although the far side of the Moon isn’t visible from our vantage point, and with all due respect to Pink Floyd, it is not accurate to call it the dark side of the Moon. All sides of the moon experience night and day just like we do here on Earth. All sides have equal amounts of day and night over the course of a single month. A lunar day lasts about two Earth weeks.