One of the goals of the current International Year of Astronomy (IYA2009) is to promote astronomy through public outreach programs. The most popular outreach vehicle is the public star party. I strongly urge any individual or group planning such an event to stage it on an evening when the Moon is available (and submit it to www.Astronomy.com/events
). The best time is a 1-week observing window centered on the first quarter (evening "half Moon") phase. Viewing along the terminator — the line that separates the light from the dark hemispheres of the Moon — highlights the cratered lunar surface. Upcoming First Quarter Moons occur the evenings of May 30, June 28, and July 28.
There are a number of useful Internet resources for those of you who are happily afflicted with Moon Madness. Two of my favorite Moon-related web sites are Lunar Republic (www.lunarrepublic.com
) and Inconstant Moon (www.inconstantmoon.com
). Each site offers a free Moon atlas in which numerous key lunar features are identified. For those of you who want to delve more deeply into the story of Galileo's observations of the Moon, try Tom Pope's web site at www.pacifier.com/~tpope/Moon_Page.htm
And, of course, the StarDome pullout at the center of each month's issue of Astronomy
provides a monthly Moon phase calendar for your convenience.
It's unfortunate that the Moon is considered a friend of the beginner but an expert's enemy. After the Moon's novelty wears off, we tend to bypass it in favor of the planets, eventually moving on to deep-sky objects. It's then that the Moon assumes the role of an unwelcome invader whose brilliant light floods the heavens with nature's version of light pollution.
If you're a novice backyard astronomer, take your telescope outside and enjoy the thrill of a lunar voyage. Start by identifying the Moon's dark maria, or seas, and then move on to some of the larger craters. If you're one of those veterans who grumble whenever moonlight prevents you from touring the Coma-Virgo Galaxy Cluster, put aside the charts and turn your attention to the Moon. Rediscover the excitement you felt when you first laid eyes on its cratered terrain. Reacquaint yourself with an old friend!
Questions, comments, or suggestions? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
. Next month: a Galileo observing technique you don't
want to repeat! Clear skies!