A lot of us amateur astronomers don’t think much of the moon.
Well, it’s there. It’s big and bright. It washes out our usual targets, those faint fuzzy things that lie in the spaces between (and beyond) the stars. Besides, it’s already been visited and people have been looking at it for years. So what’s the big deal? I know, when the moon’s out, my telescope tends to stay in.
It’s actually too bad. I remember my first view of the moon blew me away and I’ve met many skywatchers who have had a similar experience. It can be a disconcerting view through a telescope, with the craters and the mountains looming in the eyepiece. It’s almost like you’re falling in. And there is so much detail, it can almost be overwhelming.
Okay, a bit of science content here. The predominant theory for the origin of our moon is the “the big splash” or “the big whack” in which a collision of the proto-Earth with a Mars-sized object sent material into orbit and coalesced into our moon. For your next dinner party or game of Trivial Pursuit, this object has been dubbed “Theia,” after the Greek legend of the Titan that mothered the moon.
Earth is unique in the rocky worlds of the inner solar system. It is the only one that has such a big moon. Mars has a couple of captured asteroids in its orbit and Mercury has nothing. It’s theorized that perhaps Venus might have had one, but that it might have collided with Venus. That might explain the planet’s odd slow, backward rotation and the fact that “something” virtually resurfaced the planet in lava some unknown time ago.
Yes, we did go there. Don’t get me started on that whole stupid “conspiracy” thing, please! And a lot was learned about it.
But the moon offers a simply stunning view. Sharp-eyed viewers can pick out the main features with their naked eye like the “seas” which were once oceans of impact lava. Even binoculars will show the largest craters and mountain chains like the Appenines. A telescope shows even more, especially as the curving day/night boundary or “terminator” crosses the moon’s disk. This is where the 3-D nature of the moon as a separate orb becomes evident. Even some “colour” is visible if you know what to look for, although they are very muted browns and blues. It’s an amazing sight!
So maybe it’s time to give the moon a little more of the respect it deserves. Maybe become, not just a stargazer, but a ‘lunagazer,’ too.