Moon 101. How to Use the Moon to Improve Your Astronomy Skills

Moon 101. How to Use the Moon to Improve Your Astronomy Skills

Why Do We Spend so Much Time Looking Beyond the Most Wonderful Celestial Object in Our Midst?  And do you realize its value for everything else you observe in the sky?



The Earth's moon is ubiquitous.  It's always there.  Day and night.  Sometimes waxing, sometimes waning and sometimes full.  It's one of our first destinations through our telescopes, but how soon do we wander to something else?  Here are a few reasons why we should embrace our moon and how it can help us to look beyond.


For one, the moon is often visible during the day.  What a great time to view the moon and learn about the adjustments we can make on our telescopes in daylight.  How often have we fumbled in the dark to adjust azimuth and altimuth (up down/left and right).  And who hasn't forgotten to release a lock-down on a gear while adjusting, and stripped them in the process in the dark and the cold of night.

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Viewing the moon in daylight not only gives us a unique glimpse at our closest celestial neighbor, but a chance to see and learn our equipment in the bright light of day.  You can learn how to adjust for the drift of the moon depending on the rotation of the earth, and can share that knowledge with friends and family.  It's tough to do in the dark, it's much easier it in the light of day.


There's another curious behavior related to our viewing of the moon.  We tend to grab the scope and head outside when the moon is full.  That's a good thing, but there are two things to keep in mind.


Cheap moon filter

For one, a full moon often requires a moon-filter.  A full moon is very bright and any amount of magnification will make it brighter.  Moon filter's dim the bright light of the moon so you can observe it easily.


But there's another consideration that can make your viewing of the moon significantly more dramatic.  A waxing or waning moon presents hard shadow areas that are not apparent in the bright light of a full moon.  A "half-moon" can be very dramatic and much more fun to observe.  The result is a high degree of contrast in the shadow areas that dramatize the appearance of craters, peaks and deep impressions.  Many astronomers focus their attention on these areas more than most because of the dramatic features that are evident.

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Once you've mastered your equipment with daytime viewing, you might want to consider the standard illumination every astronomer uses.  A red light, or flashlight with a red lens.  Red light does not affect our eyes the way that white light does, and gives us the opportunity to adjust our scopes without affecting our ability to view dim, celestial objects.  Of course it's much easier to use this dim, red light if you've spent some time in daylight getting familiar with your scope.  That's up to you.


We all love to view the planets and galaxies.  Before you venture into deep space take some time to let the moon teach you some basics.  You'll be grateful, especially if some simple daylight viewing gives you a chance to master your scope.

You might now find the Beginners Guide to Astronomy helpful.

Find more on: Observing the Night Sky

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