Make A Date With The Moon Tonight

The moon will be a couple days past first quarter tonight, a phase that shows off some of its best features including a rich assortment of craters and the objects I’ve marked. Craters are visible just a pair of binoculars but best in a small telescope. Credit: Virtual Moon Atlas

The moon’s one of the best ways to get into astronomy. It’s bright, easy to find and doesn’t take any equipment other than your eyes to appreciate. That’s why the moon-lovers at NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, along with help from other NASA agencies and hundreds of astronomy groups, sponsor an International Observe the Moon Night (InOMN) each year. Yep, you guessed it — tonight’s the night!

That night varies each year depending on the moon’s phase. But it’s always during a time when the moon’s around half and stand high in the south in the early evening. The annual worldwide public event “encourages observation, appreciation, and understanding of our Moon and its connection to NASA planetary science and exploration, as well as the cultural and personal connections we all have with Earth’s nearest neighbor.” Everyone on Earth is invited.

The moon shines from the faint constellation of Capricornus the Sea-Goat tonight. Created with Stellarium

InOMN was inspired by the arrival of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS) satellites at the moon in 2009. LRO’s mission then and now has been to map the moon at close range, photographing details as small as a few feet across. It’s most famous images are of the six Apollo landing sites, but you can view thousands upon thousands of amazing photos anytime by checking out the archive. Besides a telescope, it’s the coolest way to get a sense of what it would be like to live on the moon.

LCROSS’ mission was to look for water hidden beneath the dusty soils of the moon’s surface. It succeeded in dramatic fashion. Mission controllers crashed the probe’s upper stage into the southern hemisphere crater Cabeus, measured the vapor in the resulting plume, relayed the information to Earth and then impacted the moon six minutes later.

Boulders, most 30-65 feet across (10 to 20 meters), pepper the flanks of a cratered mound in the floor of Copernicus crater in this photo taken by LRO. It might be a volcanic dome. Click here for a larger photo and more information. Credit: LROC NAC M1339037292R; image width ~1.1 km. Credit: NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University

Astronomy groups around the world will be featuring the moon front and center tonight across the world; click here and then click again on the locations box to find out if a local astronomy club will be setting up near you. Otherwise, grab your binoculars or that telescope you haven’t used since last Christmas and explore for yourself. The moon’s phase is just right with hundreds of craters in view along with its most prominent mountain range, the Apennines, which spans 370 miles (600 km) with peaks as lofty as 3.1 miles (5 km).

Show the moon a little love tonight ♥. If you can. Should clouds come by, you can see the moon live above the skyline of Rome starting at noon CDT (17:00 UT) streamed to the world from the Virtual Telescope website.