Our old, familiar Moon comes to life through a pair of binoculars – they open up a window into our companion satellite’s past. The moon has a flimsy atmosphere, so past geological events are frozen onto the surface in the form of craters and lava plains.
Since the same side of the Moon is locked to the Earth, the lunar face looks the same from anywhere we observe it. This makes the moon an easy and rich target for binocular observing.
The Moon cycles through different phases over a month, so it looks a little different each day. It doesn’t emit any light of its own – moonlight is just reflected sunlight. Lunar phases are caused by the position of the Moon around the earth. Where it is dictates how much light it reflects, and that determines how much of it we can see. Try to watch the Moon through binoculars over the course of a few days, and take note of the dark and light parts changing size over time.
Maria / Lowlands: The grey patchy areas on the Moon are called the Maria (Latin for seas), because early astronomers thought they were seas. We now know there’s no water on the Moon – the Maria are actually lowlands formed from cooled lava, the result of ancient volcanic eruptions. You can see the Maria with your naked eyes if you look carefully enough, but binoculars will give you a much sharper and clearer view of these areas.
Highlands: These are the whiter areas on the lunar surface, thought to be the oldest parts of the moon. The highlands are heavily cratered, because lava hasn’t smoothed out evidence of impacts.
Impact craters: Impact craters are circular formations on the Moon, formed from impacts of asteroids and rocks hitting its surface. The most prominent crater on the Moon, Tycho, is a spectacular sight through binoculars.
First and third quarter Moons offer the perfect amount of light to observe the Moon properly. However, the Moon is nearly always visible, and nothing prevents you from looking at it during different phases. If you’re planning ahead, make sure to check the Moon’s rising and setting times – it rises during the day sometimes, it’s not always nocturnal.
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