The moon may be for lovers, but I long ago fell in love with the orb itself. It’s a completely alien celestial body and yet so close to Earth, just 239,000 miles (385,000 km) away. Besides the sun, which you can’t look at directly without a filter, it’s the only outer space object big enough to show shape and detail with your eyes alone.
Look up tonight and you’ll see more than a half dozen gray patches called “seas” that look like dark blemishes against the bright, white lunar highlands. The seas are huge plains of solidified magma that welled up from below the crust to fill the bowls of enormous craters created by asteroid impacts some 3-3.5 billion years ago. The highlands are the ancient crust of the moon and older yet, about 4-4.5 billion years. The discerning eye may even see hints of the rayed craters Tycho, Copernicus and Kepler. Binoculars and small telescopes will reveal many more.
Pure, unadulterated moonlight has beneficial side effects. Walking under a bright moon stimulates the contemplative and aesthetic parts of the brain. Moonlight clears my thinking and helps me focus on the natural beauty of the night. Our nearest neighbor has also tempted and teased humankind for generations: what’s it like on the moon? Will we ever set foot there? Now we know. I’ll always feel fortunate to have been around when Armstrong and Aldrin stepped down that ladder for all of us.
International Observe the Moon Night is a worldwide celebration of lunar science and exploration held annually since 2010. The event occurs in September or October around the time of the first quarter moon. At first quarter, the sun shines at a slanting angle across the lunar terminator, the border between lunar night and day, to create long shadows that expose rich detail in the landscape.
Take a few minutes to look up and celebrate your personal connection to the moon tonight. And if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to stand on the moon and look back at Earth, you might enjoy this recent article I wrote titled Observing Earth from the Moon.
Wishing you clear skies for both moon and meteor observing this weekend.