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Moon Watching

The moon is an object of interest to everyone ranging from children to astronomers to space tourists. Being the only satellite of the Earth, the moon has a rich history since it formed about 4.5 billion years ago. While the moon is larger than Pluto, it has an average density of about three times that of water. It is a rocky world with a heterogeneous terrain consisting of mountains, volcanoes, and large craters. Most of the surface of moon is covered with a layer of soft soil formed from pulverised rock material. The moon has no atmosphere whatsoever and all of its terrestrial features can be observed clearly from the earth, with a telescope. Most features are visible to the naked eye, when observed carefully on a clear night sky when the moon is half illuminated. One need not stress the importance of the moon to sky gazers.

Moon Phases

We notice the moon changing its appearance everyday in the skies. Many civilizations in the past have observed this as a calendar in the night sky. The various appearances of the moon through each month are classified as different moon phases. The moon phases are a natural phenomena caused as a consequence of the Moon's orbit around the earth. The proceeding of the moon phases is as follows:

New Moon. Waxing Crescent. First Quarter. Waxing Gibbous. Full Moon. Waning Gibbous. Last Quarter. Waning Crescent.

The phases are in symmetry following the moon's shift in appearance. The new moon is seen when it is between the Sun and Earth, causing it to appear as an unlit disk. In the following days the moon starts getting brighter, showing up as a waxing crescent, a quarter, then a gibbous and finally as full moon, when it is fully illuminated. By then, the moon is halfway through the cycle, facing both the Sun and Earth. In the proceeding period it starts waning through a gibbous, a quarter, a crescent to finally the new moon thus completing the cycle. This cycle through the eight phases takes about a month, and lets moon watchers observe the moon in varied amounts of lighting.

No full moon for moon watching.

As opposed to common sense, the best glimpse of the moon can NOT be caught on a full moon day. The moon has many features that are best observed through shadows and partial illumination. Due to the heavy brightness on a full moon day, many of the moon's wonders such as craters cannot be spotted. It is advisable to watch out for different features of the moon through out the different moon phases. Starting with the first crescent, or waxing crescent, many lunar features can be observed. The mountaneous features and large craters are best visible on the quarter moon phases. For smaller details, one might wait for the gibbous. On the whole, moon watching requires patience and careful observation.

Other tips

The moon is the most inspiring object to watch in the night sky. Moon watching can be even more exciting if you follow the rules and plan it properly. If you're a regular star gazer, you might already have a telescope. A telescope will reveal the most intimate details of the moon. If you seriously want to study the moon in detail, the telescope is the greatest tool to aid you. However, a telescope is not mandatory if you only want to learn about the moon's features. Being very near to the earth (by astronomical distances), the moon reveals quite a lot of itself to the naked eye. A binoculars is a good investment even for the beginner. Many people find the 7 x 50 binoculars comfortable for moon watching. It is easy to find at a local store and greatly enhances your moon watching experience. Sky mapping software can be of good help when you want to plan your moon watching activity. If you don't already have an astronomy software, download it. It is available for free. Moreover, it shows you much more information about the moon phases.

Christian Nuesch is the creator of Asynx Planetarium, an easy-to-use, free astronomy program that helps render and create sky maps of the moon, planets, stars and constellations. It features time-traversal to simulate motion through past and future, graphics, animations and a location customization feature. You can download the free Asynx Planetarium Software at http://www.asynx-planetarium.com .