REDISCOVERING THE MOON
Remember your first telescope? Whether you bought it yourself or found it under a Christmas tree, chances are you whipped that baby out and pointed it straight at Neil Armstrong's vacation home. As the brightest and most obvious body in our night sky, the Moon is an inevitable target for amateur astronomers, but it tends to be forgotten quickly as Messier objects are discovered. But the world's largest night-light is much more interesting and rewarding to explore than we tend to remember. In this issue of Clear Skies, we point our scopes towards the big wheel of Wensleydale and rediscover what enchanted us at the very beginning.
THE MOONY VIEWS
Tempting as it may be to scope the Moon at full brightness, it'll actually provide the weakest views in the cycle. The relative brightness of a fully visible Moon is both dangerously high and prohibitive to discerning any real surface detail. The best time to check out her lovely lunar lumps is actually just at or before a First or Last Quarter phase; a gibbous moon is 1/11th as bright as a full phase. Around these times you'll find the Moon's brightness manageable, and the many surface features cast in sharp shadowy relief. And don't worry about the dark side, Luke; the moon is in a synchronous orbit around the Earth, so we always see the same hemisphere. Because it's close, you won't need a massive scope, either; a 20x to 40x magnification telescope or good pair of astronomical binoculars will do the trick.
HOLIER THAN THOU
You're not going to be the discoverer of vast untapped lunar ice floes or a secret UFO factory, but there are plenty of unique and beautiful geological formations to discover on our baby sister. Lunar geography is as complex and historically revealing as the features formed by tectonic movements on our own planet. Did you know that, like the Earth, the Moon also displays evidence of volcanic activity, features vast serene lava plains called maria, and is ripped with craters and holes that would make the Grand Canyon weep? Be sure to reference a moon map or lunar chart as you explore - these formations have names and can be quick to take offense.
MOONING OVER EQUIPMENT[ BACK TO TOP ]
We know, we're gadgetheads, too! There are plenty of accoutrements to improve and expand your Moon mission. Telescope moon filters are easily added to your setup, and are effective at reducing brightness and increasing surface definition while maintaining a command of the entire visible spectrum. If you're lucky enough to own a pair of astronomical binoculars, point them away from Mrs. Neighbor, mount them on a tripod, and get ready to be mooned - binocs are perfect for this, and many even accept moon filters. There is also an increasingly awesome array of helpful tools for Moon viewing, including books, dedicated websites, and tablet and smartphone apps.
FEATURED STAR PARTIER: Brendan H
When did you first get into astronomy?
I first got interested enough to buy my first telescope (and some binoculars as well) back in the mid 1990s.
What prompted your interest?
I can't say there was a specific moment, but in thinking about it I believe I've always had an interest. As a kid in the 70s, I recall ordering a "Stars and Planets" book from the Weekly Reader catalogue in grammar school, and was amazed knowing about how Haley's Comet would be visiting so far in the future of 1986!
What pieces of equipment do you own, and what is your favorite right now?
My first scope was a Russian-made 6-inch f8 TAL Newtonian ordered from the Sovietski Collection catalogue after reading a review. It sat dormant for several years, and only within the past year have I come back to the hobby and purchased an Infinity Scopes 8" f4.5 "UTI" travel telescope. My interest had never really left, but now with 2 sons, ages 7 and 10, I wanted both a hobby we might spend some together-time doing and something I could take with me to various other locations while "on the job" as a corporate pilot. The TAL is a fine telescope, but the UTI wins hands-down as having an edge in light gathering and as an ultimate grab-n-go (about 15 pounds!) first-class instrument. Oh, and the Sky Commander digital setting circles are, for me, indispensable. In an effort to hopefully "do it right the first time," which means trying to buy stuff I won't feel the need to replace EVER, my few eyepieces include a Meade SWA 24, Nikon HW 12.5/10, Televue Ethos 8, Explore Scientific 4.7, and a Baader VIP Barlow. A few of my other useful items I use include a Sky and Telescope's Pocket Sky Atlas, a Sky Atlas 2000.0, and a DGM NPB filter. In an effort to get an even wider field, I feel fairly certain the SWA 24 will be replaced at some point in the not too distant future. Oh well...
What are you looking forward to observing as the weather gets warmer?
Living in the South, I'm fortunate to have mostly year-round observing as the temperatures aren't usually that extreme. But looking forward, I'm certainly interested in earlier evenings with Saturn and I'm interested in seeing what I can of the springtime galaxies I've been reading about. But I suppose that's just a start, since as I make friends with my Sky Commander I'll be able to direct my attention to thousands of objects I might have otherwise not considered!
What's the coolest thing you've seen through a telescope?
It would have to be the first time I saw Saturn through a telescope back in the mid-1990s! I still remember looking through the eyepiece, seeing a round ball with subtle colors and the rings, then stepping back and looking naked-eye at the dot I'd always thought of as "just another star" and back through the eyepiece again... the doing-it-live experience was just very striking for me.
More about Brendan
I think that on some level, astronomy and observing what's out there helps me put things into a different perspective. It makes me realize just how small we are, and makes some of my day-to-day travails seem a little less significant as well. It's a peaceful pursuit for me.
Join Brendan at StarParty
Brendan is a member of StarParty, Telescope.com's online community of astronomy enthusiasts. It's a place where amateur and experienced stargazers can share stories, post and view photos, ask and answer questions, read independent product reviews, and connect with like-minded individuals in our neighborhoods and around the globe. Think of it as a place where you can go to enjoy astronomy anytime, regardless of sky conditions. We invite you to join StarPartytoday!
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