Wondering what’s worth seeing on the Moon’s surface? There are a ton of features to keep you occupied for hours! I cover a bunch below to inspire you and foster intrigue in observing the Moon.
One thing that you may not realise is that the Moon appears different in the northern hemisphere compared to what you see in the southern half of the world. Looking from latitudes south of the equator there’s no ‘man in the moon’, but rather a ‘rabbit’ is seen by many from ‘downunder’.
There are eight defined Moon phases, as shown here in the included image, and these will affect what you see. To avoid confusion, we need to expand on understanding the differences in Moon views between northern and southern hemispheres.
Because south is at the top of the Moon in the southern hemisphere, the phases you see through a telescope in that part of the world following a new Moon start with a sliver of light on the left edge that grows toward the right. Then the phases after full Moon start with the creep of darkness on the left edge that expands across to the right. This is opposite to what you see in the image shown, which relates to the northern hemisphere. Note: Most images of the Moon phases online relate to the northern hemisphere.
You might hear of the Moon phases described in the number of days (or age) after new Moon. For example, 7 days instead of the first quarter, 14 or 15 days in line with the full Moon, and 22 days with the last quarter. You’ll find this is how backyard astronomers refer to the timing in observing features of the Moon and what may be listed in Moon guides.
I list several lunar features in my article on what to expect to see through binoculars. Apart from these there are lakes, valleys, marshes, scarps, and Apollo landing sites as well as phenomena such as the white spokes, the terminator, Earthshine, and liberations that add to enthralling Moon observational experiences.
You might notice the craters are named after past well-known philosophers and scientists. Theophilus is largest of the craters at 100km wide. The darker areas on the Moon are the seas (mares in Latin). They are called this because Galileo and his peers at the time assumed they were bodies of water on the Moon.
Key to lunar features
What you can expect to see through any telescope is a swag of features of the Moon that will enthral you for hours. According to astronomy writer, Terence Dickinson, even a simple kid’s telescope, a 2″ refractor, will pick up Moon craters <10km in diameter at 50x magnification. You’ll see more and more as you increase in aperture size. The limit in what you see is roughly 1km.
If you use a Moon map you’ll notice unfamiliar names for common features. It is a Latin naming convention. Here are the meanings…
What you’ll see
On a full Moon, you’ll see white spokes radiating from the crater at the bottom (more to the top if in southern hemisphere), Tycho, are spectacular. Tip: Consider using a filter designed to add contrast and enhance observations of the Moon.
Outside of the full Moon, it’s not only a good time to stargaze but also excellent to observe the Moon because the terminator allows 3D perspectives of features situated along it as it moves across, changing each day with the wax and wane. Along this line, look for merged craters, terraced walls, smooth dark flooded craters, shadows cast from scarps, and more. Get yourself an Astronomy yearbook with Moon observations per age and you’ll have a lot of interesting effects to see.
Earthshine is what you see of the light on the Moon reflected from the Earth. It’s the dull glow on the unlit part of the Moon.
Liberations will allow you to see that bit more on rare occasions. You’ll get to see features on the edges you wouldn’t normally observe. Get a good Moon Map or a book on observing the Moon to help direct you. Here’s one for the southern hemisphere, where you’ll find the best dark places, but if you click through to Amazon, you’ll find ones to suit your northern latitudes.
Check it out at Quasar Publishing.
There’s lots to see on the Moon to keep you interested beyond the popular rare lunar events that are publicized. Don’t forget you can see quite a few features of the Moon with your naked eye. And, that if you happen to venture to the southern hemisphere, the Moon is upside-down from what you are used to if you’re from the northern half of the world.