The moon may be shrinking, but it’s still a big enough ball of fun to warrant its own night in the limelight.
The whole thing started with a national moon night in the U.S. last year, spurred by the activities of two NASA moon missions: the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite (LCROSS).
The LRO launched on June 18, 2009, and settled into orbit around the moon on June 23. The orbiter was carrying LCROSS, which got shot into the moon on October 9 as part of a search for water ice in shadowy lunar craters.
To get people stoked about NASA’s moon missions, the LRO and LCROSS teams co-hosted National Observe the Moon Night on August 1.
That event was so successful, NASA decided to up the ante, calling on partners with the Lunar and Planetary Institute in Houston, Astronomers Without Borders, and Gemini Observatory to help coordinate a worldwide moon extravaganza for 2010.
This year may see a dip in the “lunacy,” at least in the U.S.—human missions to the moon have been effectively canceled, the Apollo 11 anniversary has passed, and there’s no promise of “moon bombing” probes to look forward to.
But maybe that’s why taking moon fever international makes sense. Data from India’s lost Chandrayaan-1 lunar orbiter and Japan’s terminated Kaguya moon probe are still offering scientific riches (boosting those countries’ excitement over moon exploration).
And China is planning to launch its second lunar probe in October, possibly followed by a human mission to the moon in 2017.
Mountains on the moon.
—Picture courtesy LRO/NASA
For sky-watchers in the Northern Hemisphere, September 18 will present a lovely waxing gibbous moon, offering a chance to see plenty of surface features brought into sharp relief by shadows.
(A full moon can be a beautiful sight to the naked eye, btw, but through a telescope the glare can drown out details.)
With a decent telescope, viewers should be able to get a good look at features such as Tycho crater, the deep depression surrounded by bright rays that dominates the moon’s southern face.
Higher magnifications will reveal mountain ranges, dark lava fields, and rippling ridges.
The nice part of events like International Observe the Moon Night is that you won’t need your own fancy instruments to see the sights. Organizations and hobby groups around the world will be volunteering their time and access to equipment—all you have to do is show up!
If you can’t make it out to an official event, it still counts, imho, to stop at some point during the night, look up, and briefly ponder a few lunar mysteries.