Top Tips: How to observe the moon

What can you see on the lunar surface with the naked eye or a telescope?

Throughout human history, the Moon has been a fascinating target of observation. From its more mythical beginnings, we now know the Moon to be our largest natural satellite, and it was possibly formed from the same rock under your feet right now by a collision 4.5 billion years ago.

With the naked eye you can easily start observing some of the Moon’s larger features. From the dark patches that once brimmed with lava to its numerous craters, there are plenty of sights to behold.

However, by using binoculars or a telescope you can see some of its more intricate features, such as the terminator, where sunlight casts shadows on the surface, or even the regions in which the Apollo spacecraft landed. Here we’ll give you some top tips for getting the most out of your lunar observations.

Tip 1: Use a lunar map

The first thing to do is to get yourself a map of the surface of the Moon. You can find one of these easily enough online, and with this you’ll be able to identify some of the key features on the surface.

Tip 2: Explore!

The Moon is host to vast maria (hardened lava), craters, mountains, ridges and much more. Make sure you brush up on some regions of interest, like the prominent Tycho crater that’s easily visible near the south pole.

Tip 3: Look along the terminator

Look along the terminator Perhaps one of the best times to observe the Moon is not when it’s full, but when it’s a crescent. Here, by looking at the border between light and dark, you’ll be able to make out some more detail on the surface.

Tip 4: Look for subtle differences

While the same face of the Moon always points towards us, it actually wobbles a bit in its orbit (called libration). This means that at its edges you can sometimes see different regions that were not visible before.

Tip 5: Observe throughout the month

The Moon goes through a cycle every 29.5 days from full Moon to new Moon (when little to no sunlight is reflected on the surface). Viewing it at different times can give you a whole new perspective.

Tip 6: Use the right equipment

If you’re going to use a telescope, make sure you get a Moon filter. This will cut out the bright glare of the reflected sunlight, so you’ll more easily be able to train your eye on the surface by adjusting the brightness.


This article was originally published in How It Works issue 102, written by Jonny O’Callaghan


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