Wednesday, October 12, 2011

It Hit My Eye Like a Big Pizza Pie

Crescent Moon
On a recent trip up to the urban jungle, my daughter and I hit the local science center for a morning of wasting time while mama was at work, and there happened to be a couple booths set up with all kinds of information about space. While my daughter was making a spaced theme picture by gluing on various stars, moons and space shuttles onto construction paper, one of the nice ladies gathered up an entire armload of literature and freebies to give to me for my daughter. Among the literature was a little magazine about the phases of the moon and the names of various lunar features and it really caught my eye.

First Quarter Moon
I don't spend nearly as much time as I should gazing up at the moon, or the stars for that matter, and I can probably county the number of times I have looked at the moon under magnification on one or perhaps two fingers. I just haven't been in the right place at the right time, i.e. knowing someone with a nice telescope that has time on a clear night to set it up. But if I ever get a chance, this guide would be a good thing to take along in my back pocket.

Waxing Gibbous Moon
One of the big things I learned by reading through this magazine was that if you want to see the features of the moon like craters and such, you need to look at the moon sometime when it isn't a full moon. One would think that when the moon is at its fullest and thus brightest would be the best time but as it turns out and is pretty obvious on retrospect, looking at the moon is just like photography. If you want to see the features of something, you can't look at it when the light is shining straight at it and thus washing out all the detail. Thus when you look at all the pictures, the most feature detail is on the side of the moon closest too being in earth's shadow. This magazine didn't contain a picture comprised of superimposed images of that sliver overlaid on each other to give a 'full' moon view in full detail but I expect it has been done.

Full Moon
The full moon does make for some useful viewing though if you are into looking for ancient lava flows and rays of comet impacts. Tycho seen above is especially visible during the full moon. Evidently one of our lunar rovers landed on the rim of Tycho and found the dark circle immediately around the rim to be glassy impact-melted rock. It also says that the rays are only temporary and disappear in only a billion years or so as the shattered and pulverized rock in the ray darkens with prolonged exposure to sunlight.

Waning Gibbous Moon
Looking at these pictures has reawakened within me a call to remedy my situation of living in town where all nights skies are washed out with the general light pollution. It always startles me a bit when I am down on the family farm after dark and see how bright and intense the stars and moon appear in the darkened sky compared to in town where you can only see the moon and a handful of the brightest stars. Perhaps when my daughter is just a little bit older and less restless, I need to schedule a star/moon gazing trip down to the family farm.

Last Quarter Moon


R. Sherman said...

Light pollution is the worst.

Some years ago, I wanted to be a good telescope, but someone who knows told me a really decent large set of binoculars are what you need. He was right. They're easy to cart around and you can see a lot of the solar system with them. Also, they're a lot easier to use than an equatorial telescope.


Vince said...

It's one of the very few reasons I'm jealous of Yanks. You can get with ease 8" 10" 12" and 16" 18" mirrors for . The quality is so good that you are getting the view of what university astronomers were getting in the 1950's. With an 8"er you can get many of the galaxies. With an 18"er you can darn near touch M27 or M51.

kymber said...

thanks for this post! ever since moving to the cottage we are amazed at how clear the skies are at night and how easy it is to see Venus and other stars. during the full moon on monday night, the moon was so bright that you couldn't even see any other stars! and we both have been talking about getting a star/moon manual for our particular area and seeing this post means i am kicking our butts in gear to go get one! thanks Ed!

your friend,

Ed said...

R. Sherman - I actually have a telescope that I bought once on a whim a long time ago. But I found living in town, I was too lazy to drive outside of the light pollution, set it up, wait for the temperature to stabilize and then gaze at the sky. I've always thought that when I buy my little acreage, I might get some use out of the thing because I can just set it up and leave it out for a few nights within steps of the front door.

Vince - Another reason I probably don't use my telescope as often as I should is because my knowledge of 'stuff' in the sky is lacking. I can pick out the Big Dipper, the North Star, Orion, and the Moon and that is about it. I need to brush up on the skies above.

Kymber - You are one step ahead of me in the BOL but I am one step ahead of you in my moon guide so I guess that makes us even.

warren said...

I have looked at the moon quite a bit through a telescope and I can tell you, a full moon is def not the best thing in every case. In fact, it is so bright under magnification that it is nearly blinding. Still super cool, but blinding!

Anyhow, yes, get out of the city! That's my hope too!

Ed said...

Warren - This handout with the moon pictures does state that sunglasses are needed for viewing the full moon through a telescope. It also said that if you are viewing the full moon during excellent visibility conditions that going to the highest power limits the light enough to view without sunglasses. I never knew any of this until reading that thing.

sage said...

The moon the other evening was beautiful... Light pollution is bad, but here in W. Michigan, the clouds are worse! I have had many good nights looking up at the sky with my daughter and she can now point out a number of constellations.

Three Score and Ten or more said...

Informative and fun, thanks