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Thread: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

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    Default The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it



    Which is the best phase to observe the Moon?

    EVERY PHASE! Including Full Moon!

    Our closest celestial neighbour is often the first target many of us look at with a telescope. Without fail we are amazed by our first view of it, but all too often this love affair turns stale all too quickly, and even worse our relationship with the Moon turns into bitter resentment as it outshines other fainter objects in the sky. Yet the Moon presents a treasure trove of telescopic delights to keep both urban and rural astronomers very occupied during EVERY phase of its monthly cycle.

    Add to the mix the pulsating wobble in the Moon’s orbit around the Earth, and we get to view not 50% of its surface, but 60%.

    Here I will discuss some of the delights that the Moon holds for us, show you how the Moon is an open storybook of its violent history, how many of the Moon’s features have direct analogue examples here on Earth, and show you those special curiosities that are a play of our imagination and our hard-wired brain. The article comes from my own journey of discovery of the Moon. Wanting to use my telescopes from my home, the Moon and planets are really the only reasonable objects in easy reach from my light polluted skies. Not satisfied with just a “dumb” drawing, my curiosity about what it is that I was looking at has led me to research the Moon, its features and its history. This article is illustrated using examples from my own sketches. It is very surprising how many different features fill the view through the eyepiece.

    The first thing we notice about the Moon with our first telescopic glimpse of it is the stark craters and the bright and grey markings. Yet the Moon holds more than this. We come to learn that these darker markings are ancient lava fields. Yet how many of us have thought that if there are lava fields, then there would be volcanoes on the Moon too! Also on view are lava rivers, valleys, mountains, long chain-like lines of craters, collapsed lava tube, fault lines, pyroclastic deposits. And then our imagination plays trick on us and we can see alphanumeric characters, animals, faces, even a map of Australia. Of course, this latter group is a play of light and shadows as our mind races to find patterns it recognises in a field of chaos.

    Craters
    The first thing we notice on the Moon are its craters. The largest are several hundred kilometres in diameter, and because of the Moon’s distance the smallest observable ones being a staggering 500m in diameter! Craters also come in a range of “flavours”. The size of the rock that crashed into the Moon determines the appearance or morphology of the crater. Smaller rocks form essentially a simple bowl shape. The largest of rock create such a massive explosion on impact that the impact site acts like it was liquefied, and a central mountain is formed in the centre of the crater.


    Another feature you will notice about craters is some show being distinctly filled-in. And this they have been. This is where we can see a time line of the Moon from its early history to the present. These filled-in craters were formed when the Moon was young, hot, its crust was thin and its interior was molten rock – remarkably much like our Earth today, but without oceans, air or life. At this early time, a large rock impacts on the Moon, and with a thin crust, the rock punctured the surface so that the crater was filled in with lava, even totally flooding the crater so only a shadow of the original rim can be seen – a Ghost Crater. As time goes on, the Moon cools some more, the crust thickens, and subsequent impacts result in only partial flooding of the crater so the central peak is still visible. Eventually the Moon cooled to the point that all subsequent impacts hit a crust that is so thick that no flooding occurs any more. This is what happens today.

    The trio of craters Ptolemaeus, Alphonsus and Arzachel and surrounding moonscape, is a fabulous timeline of the Moon’s ancient to present history. Ptolemaeus is the oldest, being totally filled to the point of nearly being a ghost crater. Alphonsus formed millions of years later, and the flooding of its floor though extensive stopped shy of swamping the central peak. Arzachel formed millions of years later again, with a cooler Moon the flooding was far less extensive. All other craters formed after Arzachel, and display no flooding at all. This trio of craters show a time line of history that stretches back 4billion years to the present. By being aware of the flooded appearance of craters and their size, the observer has a ready-made timeline constantly on display.

    Rays
    Radiating out from some craters are some brilliant lines and rays. These rays are ejecta material that was blown out from the resulting impact explosion. Some of these rays can stretch for hundreds of kilometres.

    Rays of bright material is not the only thing thrown out from these explosions. Enormous boulders and chunks of rock were also hurled out, and these in turn formed secondary impacts/craters that surround the parent crater. The huge crater Copernicus exhibits both bright rays and strings of the secondary impact craters, all material that was blown out from the original impact


    Lava fields
    We have all heard about the “seas” and “oceans” on the Moon. Though not filled with water, these darker markings on the Moon are areas that are filled with long frozen lava. Their round perimeter gives a clue to their origins (very ancient impacts that were totally lava filled), and as these formed when the Moon was very hot and volcanically very active, and multiple lava flows can be seen on these vast areas. We can see these by the “wrinkled” appearance of these areas. These same successive flows can be seen here on Earth, such as in the Craters of the Moon National Park in Idaho, USA.



    Weathering on the Moon
    While there is no atmosphere or water on the Moon to create erosion, weathering still occurs because of the solar wind. These charged particles that pour out from the Sun chemically react with material on the Moon’s surface, slowly darkening it. The darker Seas and Oceans on the Moon are the oldest features, and so have been longest exposed to this solar wind. You will also see ancient ray systems that radiate out from some very large craters, but these rays are no longer a brilliant white such as those from the craters Copernicus and Tyco. These younger craters blew up deeper material under the Moon’s surface that was unaffected by solar wind, and also having been pulverised now shine much more brilliantly than the surrounding moonscape. Yet the brilliance of these rays will one day be lost due to the effects of the solar wind, such as has happened to Aristoteles.




    There are even some flooded craters that exhibit lava flows of different brilliance. Remember, all lava flows are very ancient artefacts. That there are some lava flows of different brilliance despite their age gives a clue to differences in the chemical composition of these different flows, for this is why some flows have darkened and others just about nil. The ancient crater Schickard is very unique. It is one of the few flooded craters that displays lava flows of different brilliance. The brightest spot inside Schickard is also an ancient shield volcano.



    Fault lines and Valleys
    The term “valley” is a bit of a misnomer. As there is no air or water on the Moon, these valleys are not the result of erosion. Instead these are created from fault lines, both shear and rift.

    Faults occurred actively on the Moon when it was young. The thin crust floated over a molten mantle, and the crust was subjected to tectonic forces, just like our Earth experiences today. And just like those on Earth, these faults on the Moon share the same morphology that distinguish shear faults, and rift faults that are pulled apart.





    Other Riles, Walls and lines
    Not all “lines” on the Moon are tectonic in origin. Some of these are old lava rivers and collapsed lava tubes.

    Just like here on Earth, lava can flow along course ways called lava rivers. On the Moon, these of course have long been empty of any flowing lava, but these channels can still be seen. One of the most spectacular ancient rivers is Vallis Schroteri, and it sits beside one of the Moon’s brightest features, the crater Aristarchus. The head of this river is also the Moon’s largest caldera, The Head of the Cobra, the opening of a massive shield volcano that sits between Aristarchus and Herodotus. This ancient lava river has a serpentine appearance to it, and when the Sun is at the correct angle the caldera gives the entire feature the appearance of a cobra snake.


    Curiously, there is a smaller rile that runs down the centre of Vallis Schroteri. It is a very fine feature
    and extremely difficult to see through a telescope. This second rille could be a smaller surface lava river or it could be a collapsed lava tube that followed the above surface channel.

    Lava does not flow exclusively on the surface. Even here on Earth, we find that much lava actually flows through subterranean channels called lava tubes. As there is no water on the Moon, the rock structures can be more brittle. These collapsed lava tubes are most frequently found in old flooded craters. Though long extinct, these tubes have collapsed from the smashing of subsequent impacts. The result is that these collapsed tubes trace an intricate lace-like network of lines on the crater’s floor. The ancient crater Gassendi is riddled with such a lace-like network of lines.


    Another, but very rare form of rilles are among the oldest features on the Moon. These are a series of concentric arcs that trace around a couple of Seas, such as Mare Humorum. Mare Humorum was formed from an impact when the Moon’s crust was very thin. The massive asteroid that crashed into the Moon instead of forming a rimed crater, the thin crust was essentially just punctured the surface and the thin crust just shattered in a series of concentric circles all around the circumference. Over time, subsequent impacts and tectonic action has obliterated most of this impact shatter ring, but a few remnant sections remain. One such section is beside the crater Gassendi (Rimae Mersenius), and another section sits along Humorum’s south-eastern shore


    Volcanos and other volcanic features
    Throughout this article I’ve mentioned volcanos a number of times. Shouldn’t come as a surprise that if there is lava then there would be volcanos and other associated volcanic features. The biggest problem in identifying individual calderas and volcanos is these all tend to be tiny telescopic features, and very few individual volcanos, or domes, are readily visible, and very few atlases actually have any of these labelled.

    Above I mentioned the Head Of The Cobra. This is the single largest volcanic vent on the Moon’s surface. Most other vents are identified not with a crater-like caldera feature, but from their isolated “mountain” appearance, essentially being a mountain in an area that has no other hills or mountains anywhere near it. These on atlases are called “domes”. The naming of these domes follows a numerical sequence attached to the name of the principle crater in that area, much like smaller craters follow a letter sequence that follows the name of the principle crater.

    The easiest domes to spot sit inside the various Seas and Oceans as these flat fields make it easier to spot “the odd man out” that is not a crater. Liebig G 1 in Mare Humorum is one of the easier domes to make out.


    Pyroclastic deposits are the easiest way to identify the vicinity of other vents. These areas are the field of ash and dust spewed out by volcanos. And because these are of different chemical composition from the surrounding lava fields, they often have a different weathered colouration. In the crater Schickard, this deposit is a very bright feature. The crater Alphonsus has several dark markings inside it, all being distinct pyroclastic deposits.




    Landslides and Chains
    One feature that all but the oldest craters show is a terracing of the inside and outside of the walls. This terracing is due to landslides occurring of the dry and pulverized steep walls of the craters. Many of these landslides occur of their own accord due to gravity slowly pulling down on the friable material. Other times, these landslides are tiggered by the shockwaves from subsequent impacts. Whatever the trigger, all craters show some degree of terracing.


    The very oldest of craters often show no terracing. This is due to the many millions of years of subsequent impacts shaking the terraces into oblivion. Moonquakes too shake the surface, but these are few today following on from the experiments left on the Moon by the various Apollo missions.

    Catena, or chains of craters, are one of the more unique features on the Moon. These are caused by a trail of impacts all occurring in a short distance one after the other. Comets are often torn apart by the push and pull of the Sun’s gravity as they orbit through the solar system. The fragments of these broken up comets sometimes crash into the Moon and other planets and their satellites. And when they do make contact, the distribution of these fragments forms a short line of craters, often of similar size.


    Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9 was a recent comet that broke up and crashed into Jupiter in 1994. The impacts of its fragments created a series of dark markings in the atmosphere of Jupiter.


    Tricks of the imagination – seeing patterns within the chaos
    Our brain is hard wired to find patterns it recognises from surrounding chaos or noise. These patterns can be visual or audio. On the Moon, because its appearance is all a play of light and shadows, our imagination is very attuned to seen patterns created by this interplay of light and dark. As such there are a number of alphanumeric characters that can be seen. The “lunar X” is one of the most striking. My sketch below shows two such “X’s”, with the lower one actually being the famed “X”


    There are many other patterns on the Moon, Christmas trees, crosses, faces just to name a few. In my time spent exploring the Moon, I’ve seen a couple of Owls. On another occasion I spotted a silhouette image of the Map of Australia that forms from the very damaged walls of the crater Maurolycus.





    Because these features are an interplay between light and shadows, these features may last only a few hours until the sun sets or rises to a point where these apparitions are no longer visible. For the Lunar X, there are yearly tables compiled that describe when the X will be visible. This table is listed using Universal Time so the individual person will need to convert this time to their own local time.

    2018 Lunar X Predictions (approx "start times"):

    Using Werner (1.2 Sun Alt) with coordinates of:
    LAT -28.0
    LON 3.3

    Date Time Sun Angle at the X at this time

    01/24/2018 0442UT -.975 @ X
    02/22/2018 1807UT -1.025 @ X
    03/24/2018 0657UT -1.064 @ X
    04/22/2018 1913UT -1.082 @ X
    05/22/2018 0702UT -1.079 @ X
    06/20/2018 1837UT -1.054 @ X
    07/20/2018 0614UT -1.010 @ X
    08/18/2018 1809UT -0.956 @ X
    09/17/2018 0632UT -0.920 @ X
    10/16/2018 1930UT -0.901 @ X
    11/15/2018 0859UT -0.903 @ X
    12/14/2018 2246UT -0.935 @ X

    Average = -.0.992 @ X


    The Full Moon.
    This phase of the Moon is often described with the utmost disdain and treated with contempt by most amateur astronomers. Mainly for two reasons, 1, that it is so bright that it swamps the deep sky objects they want to see, 2, they think that the Full Moon has nothing to offer telescopically.

    This last point is nothing further from the truth!

    On the disk of the Full Moon, because of the position of the Sun there are no shadows being cast. Yet this very condition makes for an ideal situation to be able to identify many pyroclastic deposits. Because these are identified by the colouration difference between the deposit and the surrounding lunarscape, the absence of any shadows eliminates on source of confusion from the identification process.


    The Full Moon also allows for a very special examination of craters, valleys and mountains from a very unique aspect – in profile, and not from above! Because the Moon’s orbit around the Moon has its plane rise above and dip below the equatorial plane of the Earth, the only time when no shadows are actually visible is when the Moon is directly behind the Earth in Earth’s shadow during a total lunar eclipse. Otherwise, every other time there will be shadows visible along the limb of the Moon. This is prime profile hunting time. The view along the limb here can be quite an erie and spectacular one. There is an extraordinary depth of field that can be seen as ramparts of craters show their ragged sides and mountains and valleys rise and fall behind each other.





    There is one other lunar feature that is often overlooked. The Moon has a wobble in its rotation around Earth. This lunar wobble is called “libration”. This wobble allows for a small amount of the far side of the Moon to become visible. This means that we actually get to see 60% of the lunar surface, not 50%. It is this wobble, combined with the Full Moon phase when some features are only visible when both aspects of libration and phase intersect. The crater Drygalski is one such feature. I’ve been fortunate to get to sketch this crater when it was at its most favourable apparition, and another time when just the rim and central peak were barely visible.

    There are many other features that are totally libration dependant to be seen. Often it is only during the Full Moon phase when these special features can be seen, such as Mare Orientale.


    I hope this article goes some way to your own journey of discovery of the Moon, or even endears you again to our closest celestial neighbour.

    Alex.

    Lunar related sites and atlases
    • Virtual Moon Atlas, and extraordinary atlas. Extremely detailed that also lists volcanic features: https://virtual-moon-atlas.en.uptodown.com/windows
    • Lunar Map HD: an excellent smartphone app, very detailed and easy to use: https://play.google.com/store/apps/d...arMap.HD&hl=en
    • NASA Exploring the Moon Educator Guide, a detailed guide geared towards primary and high school students: https://www.nasa.gov/audience/foredu....the.Moon.html
    • Visit-the-Moon, an amazing photographic atlas that also discusses astrophotographic techniques that are surprisingly simple and effective: interactive moon atlas

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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    Now that is something else and it will give me more reasons to look at the moon more often

    Thanks for this
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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    Alex, exceptional article and the inclusion of your excellent and beautiful sketching makes it all the more wonderful. Well done!

    I have not only learned more about our Moon but have been instilled with a desire to observe our nearest neighbor much more!
    Bryan

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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    Hello Alex,

    this is a great article with your excellent drawings of the features on the Moon!
    Quite a lot to learn for me,

    JG
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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    Thank you David, Bryan and JG.

    The Moon is a fascinating object. It is far from being the "Evil Orb" that many people think of it.

    It's a reminder of the forces that created our planet and the others in our solar system, and its story is "written in stone" for us to explore and discover every month.

    And of course there are also the romantic connections with Luna. Connections that reach deep into our humanity, that make the soul soar with joy, or sometimes our deepest dreads.

    Alex.

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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    What an amazing post. Thank you!
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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    Alex,

    Fantastic article and your drawings are absolutely amazing! Luna has lots to offer as you so graciously point out! A target that after years of exploration still has many of us coming back for more!

    Thank you and Merry Christmas!
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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    Alex, truly excellent, thank you. This should be published as a book. I for one would gladly buy it. This would make a wonderful teaching resource for outreach programs in schools or at public star parties.

    I’m inspired now to observe these features of the Moon for myself. So much more interesting when one knows the science and history of our moon.
    Mary


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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    I just got my scope and like you say the moon is the first thing I thought of to “break it in.” This is amazing and will certainly help to get me started!
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    Default Re: The Moon - what it has to offer and the best phase to view it

    Well done Alex! Very good source of information. Thank you!

    I'll be sure to look at those shadows on the edge for the next full moon!
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