Crowd-viewing the moon: September 18

International Observe the Moon Night: September 18, 2010
International Observe the Moon Night: September 18, 2010

You are cordially invited to what might be called a worldwide moon-up.

September 18 is International Observe the Moon Night, when, if the program’s organizers get their wish, people all over the world will collectively gaze up and admire the dry seas, mountain peaks, fields of rubble, and, of course, the craters of our planet’s closest celestial companion.

When you stop to think about it, it’s pretty amazing that we can look so directly into the face of another object in our solar system. Just a naked-eye view can be plenty dramatic. Add binoculars or a basic telescope, and suddenly you feel as if you’re hovering a few thousand feet over a stark and stunning extraterrestrial landscape. If you’ve never seen the moon this way, you owe it to yourself to find a viewing party on September 18.

As astronomy wonks know, it’s no accident that this event is scheduled for a night when the moon will be in “waxing gibbous” phase. At that time, the angle of the sun’s rays and the position of the “terminator,” the line that marks the transition from moon day to moon night, will make lunar features easy to pick out.

At a recent meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, NASA’s Brooke Hsu described the upcoming lunar meet-up as an extension of a much smaller event that she helped organize last year. Following the success of two lunar missions (the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Lunar Crater Observation and Sensing Satellite), NASA’s Ames Research Center in northern California and its Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland hosted simultaneous moon-watching parties in July 2009. The events went so well that plans were made to repeat them this year and to add a few more U.S. locations.

But then organizations all over the world got wind of the news and asked if they could join in. The momentum was irresistible, said Hsu, so International Observe the Moon Day was rushed into production by popular demand.

Want to set up your own moon-viewing party for September 18? The program ‘s website provides advice, complete with templates for flyers and postcards to publicize the gatherings and a guide to help observers identify lunar features. Or you can search an interactive map for an observing event near you. The site also describes plans for a photo contest, live webcasting of public lectures, and other activities.

There’s even a line of observe-the-moon goodies to help commemorate the night: T-shirts, coffee mugs, water bottles. And, oh yes, beach bags, perfect for a September visit to the sea—whether it be terrestrial or lunar.

Categories: Astronomy & Space