In an incredibly rare celestial event called a lunar reversal, the opposite side of the moon, or “dark side” as it is often called, will become briefly visible. It will directly face us for the full moon on August 20. “This has not happened since medieval times,” says Dr. Ivan Ivanovich, a former Soviet scientist now with NASA. "Up to now, only a few astronauts and cosmonauts have seen what the other side of our moon looks like with their own eyes. For the rest of us, pictures like the one here have been all there is. That is about to change, though not for long."
Dr. Ivanovich explained that as our solar system makes its closest approach to the core of the Milky Way Galaxy, the orbits and rotations of small objects like moons and dwarf planets can be altered. Many other objects in the solar system will likely be affected by the gravity well of the galactic core, but are too far away to observe with the naked eye. Unusual tidal activity is also expected to occur starting in the second week of the eighth month, as our natural satellite's orbit temporarily becomes less elliptical. Once our solar system moves away from these strong gravitational forces, everything will return to normal. It will last just long enough that it will not permanently alter the rotation and orbit of the moon. "If it were any shorter or any longer," he told me, "then the parts of the moon we can see would change permanently. That may eventually happen in a million years or so, but won't this time around."
I also spoke to Dr. Michael Ackley of Brandine University, a professor of religious studies and folklore. He told me of old manuscripts he had been able to view concerning this rare occurrence. “The lunar reversal caused an end of the world scare in the year 903 A.D. People lit massive bonfires, flagellated themselves, wore ashes and sack cloth, burned women and girls accused of witchcraft, and committed many other outrageous acts driven by fear. In some primitive villages the Church had not reached, pagans performed sacrifices, even human sacrifice!"
He explained that the moon suddenly changing and erratic tidal behavior caused great confusion and despair at that time, and feared that it could happen again. "I hope that this time around, people will understand that it is only a natural phenomenon, and will not do crazy things like taking passages from Revelation out of context or using bogus Nostradamus quatrains to frighten people. Another panic could quickly turn tragic. Word needs to get out."
Ackley also told me of an ancient Babylonian cuneiform tablet that mentioned a lunar reversal, and a Chinese document that was almost certainly from the same time. The Babylonian tablet spoke of a panic similar to the one in tenth century Europe. The inscription says that it subsided after the moon and tides returned to normal. To the Chinese however, it was simply something to observe and make note of. Ackley found no evidence of a panic. He even showed me a picture of the Chinese document from a book in the Brandine University library.
One thing is for certain, there will be a spectacular show in the sky this summer, one that won't happen again for more than a millennium. If the weatherman predicts a cloudy night, make sure to travel to where it will be visible. You will not want to miss this, but don't panic! It is not the end of the world.
UPDATE: It did not happen. The positions of Venus and Jupiter were different than in 903 A.D. Their gravity fields were just enough to cancel out the effect of the galactic core. These variables were not taken into account. Oh well! It would have been a neat thing to see. Perhaps our distant descendants will get to see it in the year 3123.