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The Day the Moon Caught Fire

Julian D C Richardson was born in London and currently lives with his family in the San Francisco Bay Area. His earliest desire was to be an astronaut. While fate has left him planet-bound, he has worked as a researcher at many interesting places, including a stint at NASA. An author of dozens of scientific articles, he also enjoys writing science fiction. When not researching or writing he can be found trying to make pots or electronic knickknacks. He blogs sporadically at glowseed.com/mindmash.
One day the Moon caught fire. Scientists insisted that an accumulation of hydrocarbons and industrial chemicals was to blame, but the popular feeling was that this was a left-wing conspiracy.
Moonlit nights were red now, not silver, lending a more sordid tone to rustic midnight liaisons. There were tears when the Apollo 11 landing site was consumed. Romantics rued the loss of the beautiful crescent Moon, replaced in its slow procession across the nighttime sky by a glowing red orb. There were advantages: drunken parties could go on longer in the warmer nights, and the improved visibility led to fewer 3am traffic accidents. People got used to the Moon's new clothes.
Months passed, then suddenly the flames went out. Late-night traffic accidents became more frequent and drunken parties were curtailed. Romantics continued to rue the loss of the crescent Moon, but now the full Moon had been lost too; the burnt out Moon was completely black and reflected no light.
Oil companies offered to reignite the Moon. Technology companies offered to illuminate it with giant arrays of LEDs displaying inspiring images and perhaps the odd advertisement. But it was a vast citizen effort which prevailed, millions of ordinary men and women spending weeks at a time on the Moon's charcoal surface scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing. A committee was formed to organize the effort and ensure that the Moon was returned to something resembling its historical appearance, but politics and infighting led to the disbanding of the committee only a few months after it was formed.
61 years have passed and finally the Moon is clean. Many complain that it has lost its character. The mysterious craters and dark seas of the past are gone now leaving the Moon a bright featureless sphere. I miss the Sea of Tranquility and the Copernicus Crater, the Ocean of Storms and the Sea of Nectar, but I am still inspired when I see a slender crescent Moon hanging high in the night sky. We may have lost the stars, drowned out by the light of a million cities, but at least, for now, we have the Moon.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, February 27th, 2018

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