The Moon is perhaps the most remarkable object in the night sky. It is fun and easy to observe because it is relatively close to the Earth.
You can observe the gradually changing shape of the moon throughout a month and study maria, highlands,
craters and other features on the lunar surface.
It takes the moon 29.5 days to turn once on its axis. Interestingly, it also takes 29.5 days for the moon to orbit the Earth.
As a result, we always see the same side of the moon. The other side is often incorrectly called the dark side of the moon.
This is incorrect because it isn't always dark; it is actually fully engulfed in light whenever we experience a new moon.
Total lunar eclipses are also exciting to observe and learn about because they happen only on rare occasions.
During a partial eclipse, the moon just goes through the edge of the shadow, but never darkens completely. During a total eclipse the moon is completely covered by the shadow for about the hour!
The moon is not completely invisible once it passes through the Earth's shadow; it will appear dimly lit due to light that's bent by the Earth's atmosphere.
You can try to determine the color of the moon during the totality using the Danjon scale.
Try to record the contact moments:
- First Contact - when eclipse begins
- Second Contact- the total phase starts
- Third Contact- end of totality
- Fourth Contact- end of eclipse
First, find a detailed map of the visible side of the Moon. Try to find lunar maria, which are dark areas on the moon formed from ancient volcanic eruptions. The term comes from the Latin word "maria" meaning "seas" because early astronomers thought that these areas were actually seas. You can identify maria with naked eye, but you will see more detail with binoculars or a small telescope. Be aware that the telescope gives an upside down view, while the map shows the direct view of the Moon.
After identifying lunar maria, try to find some of the larger craters like Tycho, Kepler, and Copernicus. Do you notice the bright rays surrounding them?
The best time to look at the craters is when the moon is growing, or gibbous, because they are lit by the Sun from the side and you can clearly distinguish their profile and shadows.
During the full moon the light is directly overhead, so craters lose their shadows and are harder to distinguish.