The annual global celebration of observing the Moon.
International Observe the Moon night was first held in 2010 and is organised by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission team, as well as other space and astronomy outreach organisations.
It’s a night to get together with others or spend some time on your own observing and learning about the Moon – and as NASA points out “observing” is meant to be taken quite loosely. It can mean everything from observing the Moon with a telescope, through to learning about Lunar features online or even creating art around the Moon or finding out about its place in our history.
The Moon on the evening of the 21st of October will be just past 1st quarter phase, high in the sky at Sunset and setting below the horizon just before 1.00am Sydney time – ideal conditions for telescopes or binoculars.
While a Full Moon is a spectacular sight, the weeks leading up to and away from a Full Moon (first and last quarter) are often the best time to observe the surface of the Moon. The light from the Sun hits Lunar surface features and we see more dramatic details and shadows compared to the Full Moon when Sunlight hits the surface of the Moon from above. It’s similar to the long shadows we see on scenery here on Earth in the late afternoon or early morning and not during the middle of the day.
International Observe the Moon Night is usually scheduled around the first quarter Moon.
Observing the Moon:
Observing the Moon means lots more than looking at the Moon through a telescope!
NASA has a cool and detailed guide to Lunar observing that can be found here.
Here’s some suggestions about how you can get out under the Moonlight and enjoy the evening.
With just your eyes:
You’ve probably looked at the Moon and seen darker patches that spread across the Lunar surface. These are called Maria from the Latin word for “sea”. The aren’t dried out seabeds as there were never any major bodies of water on the surface of the Moon. Instead, these flat Mare are the result of massive meteoroid impacts on the far side of the Moon (IE, the side that faces away from us) that triggered major volcanic eruptions on the other side of the Moon! What we see are the vast, flat plains of solidified lava that flowed from these volcanoes that spread across low lying regions on the surface of the Moon.
The Maria appear darker than surrounding areas as the volcanic materials they are made from – mainly basalts – reflects slightly less light. Most also formed some billion years ago and have received many small impact craters. The lighter regions are the Lunar highlands or mountains.
If your eyes are good enough and conditions are right, you’ll also be able to observe some of the bright rays or streaks from the craters Copernicus or Tycho. These impact craters formed comparatively recently, and the bright “rays” are reflecting off the materials thrown out from the craters by the impact.
Did you know you can observe the Moon with just about any pair of binoculars? They don’t need to be of a certain size or magnification and even an older pair will reveal detail on the Lunar surface. The lighter areas of the Moon will become mountain ranges and you’ll see more and more craters.
Here’s some Nikon binocular suggestions that would make ideal Moon viewing companions:
With a telescope:
This is where observing the Moon really gets interesting!
Viewing the Moon through a telescope brings out even more details. There are so many features on the Moon, you can spend a lifetime exploring the Moon visually from a telescope. Larger telescopes will let you use higher magnifications for clearer and closer views. Like binoculars, practically all telescopes will reveal stunning views of the Moon. To get started, this little Celestron FirstScope would let you view the Moon and explore deep-sky objects as well. It would provide better Lunar views than a pair of binoculars and being on a tabletop mount, offers steadier viewing for a longer period than hand-held binoculars –
A couple of full size, but affordable beginner’s telescopes from Meade would provide close up views of the Moon, as well as Saturn, Jupiter and many other astro objects –
Two serious beginners from Celestron will start you off on your Moon journey and let you see planets, nebulae, galaxies and more. They also use your mobile to help you locate astro objects in the night sky:
Do I need a Moon Filter?
A Moon filter simply reduces the amount of light from the Moon hitting your eye. It’s not an essential item even when viewing the Moon through a telescope but you will likely see more with one. Less glare means you’re not overwhelmed by the brightness of the view and can concentrate on studying the finer details in your telescope eyepiece. They’re basically a set of sunnies for your telescope! They screw into the end of the eyepiece. Moonfilters come in several different densities or strengths. Here’s a few examples and more are on the BINTEL website:
Exploring the Moon with your computer:
There are several excellent free Lunar atlases and programs to help you explore the Moon.
NASA’s Moon Trek is handy online resource to let you view the Moon close up through high resolution images taken by orbiting spacecraft.
The Virtual Moon Atlas is a downloadable program that’s been in use for about 20 years. It’s a feature rich with many tools for exploring the Moon. Make sure you take the time to read the introduction and tutorials to get the most from it!
Books and charts:
Here’s a couple of “old school” books and charts at BINTEL that also make great gifts:
Can I see the Apollo landing sites on the Moon with my telescope?
NASA put humans on the Lunar surface during six missions from the 1969 to 1972. While parts of each Lunar Module, Lunar Rovers and other equipment remain on the Moon’s surface, all of these items are too small to see even with the best telescopes on Earth. They have been imaged from space by satellites orbiting the Moon.
You can observe the locations where each Apollo mission landed. These are marked in most Lunar atlases or apps.
Photographing the Moon:
If you’ve never photographed the Moon, International Observe the Moon night is a great time to start. The Moon will be in a great position for taking photos and if you miss that evening, the following week or so is also ideal.
The Moon can easily be captured with a DSRL and a telephoto lens. As only short exposures are needed, you won’t need any form of motor drive to track it. Make sure you use a tripod to keep the image steady.
There are multiple ways to photograph the Moon through a telescope. For your first Lunar images, we suggest you can’t go past this Celestron gizmo that attaches your mobile to a telescope eyepiece. The quality of phone cameras means superb photos of the Moon are fun and easy to capture.
No matter how you observe the Moon – you’re going to enjoy it!
13th October 2023