This piece was originally broadcast on Radio Scilly in January 2019.
We had our first go on the observatory’s 14 inch Meade telescope on Saturday night. It’s not fully set up but the Moon was out (behind a light screen of mist). We thought we may as well have a go. And we weren’t disappointed – it was, quite simply, phenomenal.
Magnificent as it is, you don’t really need a big old telescope to view the Moon. It’s only 385 thousand-ish kilometres away, which is practically next door, in the grand scheme of space.
Binoculars will give you a real reward. You will easily see that the moon’s surface has plains, craters and mountains. Through a small telescope, you start to make out detail in textures and contours, spotting the smaller, shallower craters. This is where you might want a map to start finding your way around!
You can’t get many places without consulting a map here on Earth and so it’s the same with the Moon. Find yourself a Moon map – there are several online – and this will help you to identify various features.
The Lunar Maria – or Seas of the Moon are a complete misnomer, because they’re actually bone dry. They were once thought to be seas, the dark patches mistaken for water. They were given poetic names like the ‘Sea of Serenity’, ‘Sea of Tranquility’. We now know that these aren’t seas, but are flat plains of lava, however the fancy names have stuck.
Believe it or not, Full Moon is the worst time to observe the moon (after New Moon, obviously). It’s so bright that you won’t be able to make out great detail. The best time to view our lunar neighbour is as it’s waxing or waning, ideally in the days following the first quarter – i.e. NOW! Your best place to look is along the line of darkness – known as the terminator (nothing to do with Arnold Schwarzenegger). As the terminator recedes, features near the border stand out in bold relief; that means that shadows become stronger and details are more easily seen. So, grab a map and get looking up at the moon – it has a lot to offer, none of it cheese.