All eyes are on the moon… again
In the 1960s, amateur sky watchers and I had plenty of incentives to look at the moon with a telescope.
After all, we were headed there, thanks to guidance from President John F. Kennedy.
As a teenager, I remember regularly looking at the moon through a telescope at the time, and not just when Apollo 11 was on its way to the first historic human moon landing in the summer of 1969.
I knew there was no chance of seeing the Apollo spacecraft on the moon or in lunar orbit with my backyard telescope. It could only show features of the moon about a mile in diameter, but that never stopped me from looking.
There were other pre-Apollo unmanned missions targeting the moon that helped fuel my interest.
There were robotic missions called Ranger, Surveyor, and Lunar Orbiter, and they brought back all the images of regions of the moon that were already familiar to me from my evenings at the telescope’s lens.
After the last Apollo moon mission in 1972, public and government interest in the moon waned.
But the moon is being targeted by humans again.
The first mission to the moon in 50 years, the Artemis rocket with its Orion spacecraft, is scheduled to launch and may soon take humans to the lunar surface more than 50 years after the last Apollo mission. The first Artemis missions won’t carry a crew, but if the technology is checked, people will head back to the Moon shortly thereafter.
Targeting the moon… with a telescope
The moon has not contributed to our waning of interest in it for decades. It is the same amazing and intriguing world that humans have long been looking at.
The Moon is located 120 times its diameter from us… or about 240,000 miles. This is much closer than any other celestial body. This close proximity means that complex features on the Moon’s surface can be easily seen with any telescope or even binoculars. The Moon is far enough away to make these features elusive to our naked eyes.
But through a small telescope 30 times or more magnified, the features of the moon’s surface are brought back to life. Soft lava fields known as maria appear as darker patches while upland features and craters appear as brighter areas.
Novice lunar observers with telescopes might think that the full moon phase would be the best time to observe the moon, but this is not the case. While it’s hard to beat a full moon night on moonlight cruises, marriage proposals and beach walks, the full moon shows few shadows in telescope view because sunlight hits the face of the moon directly.
In order to better see the rugged surface of the moon up close with a telescope, we need to choose a night when the moon is lit from the side, such as the nights around the first quarter phase or at the time when it appears as a “half moon.” This makes moon features such as mountains and craters more visible as they cast long shadows on the surface of the moon.
Around this first quarter phase, the dividing line or “terminator” between the sunlit and shadow parts of the Moon reveals the longest shadows that frame the view of these lunar features. The next first quarter phase will be on October 2, but a few nights either side of that date provide good moonlighting.
International Moon Night Observation
The astronomy community around the world is offering a free view of the moon with a telescope at the “International Observe the Moon Night” and the event is held locally on Friday night, September 30th.
The free event will feature several lunar-oriented telescopes set up outside the pavilion at the Jordan Football Complex at 445 Treetop Drive. We’ll also examine Saturn.
The event is canceled if there is an overcast sky.
Contact Dr. John Dembosky at 910-630-7556 or firstname.lastname@example.org for more information about the event and for late weather updates.
If you have a question about astronomy, send it to Backyard Universe PO Box 297, Stedman, NC 28391 or email email@example.com