Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lunation 196: The 10-Day-Old Moon

When I observe Luna (with the naked eye and binoculars while at sea, and with telescope on land) I am always struck by how different it can look from hour to hour and day to day.  Not simply the change of phase as the Terminator creeps slowly across the Moon's face, constantly revealing or concealing seas, craters and mountain, but other effects that affect what we can see as we gaze at our natural satellite.

There is the effect of weather.  I have found that profound changes in apparent brightness and hue can occur with only a thin layer of cloud or haze between our eyes and Luna; even greater effects can be observed soon after moonrise (or just before moonset), those times when we stare through the thickest atmospheric "filter".

Then there is the Moon's Libration. This is an effect of the elliptical orbit of the Moon; its shape and tilt relative to Earth result in an apparent wobble which, from our perspective, brings tantalizing glimpses of a small area of that part of Luna that we normally think of as its "far side".  Libration changes what we see of our Moon in subtle ways, but the differences are there.  Check out this terrific video on the subject at...

So the Moon always looks different.  And that's why I find myself drawn to it; why after 45 years spent exploring craters Tycho, Clavius, and Petavius, "moonwalking" Mare Imbrium with optical aid and imagination, and exploring Valles Alpes and the Straight Wall at extremely high powers when the weather allows, I am still captivated by it's light and landscapes.  

After all, the Moon is another world.  The only one which we can explore in detail without the expensive requirement of a space program, and the only one where human beings have walked and wondered at its "magnificent desolation", to quote Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin, the second man to walk its surface.

Based upon my own study of our satellite, I tend to think that "Buzz" summed it up perfectly.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Lunation 196: The 9-Day-Old Moon

The Moon, aged 9 Days. We've missed a few images due to overcast and rainy weather here in coastal Virginia, but tonight Luna shone bright in a clear sky as members of the VPAS (Virginia Peninsula Astronomy/ Stargazers) group--and a few members of the Public--met at Grundland Park (Hampton) to enjoy a few hours' observations.

I was particularly fascinated by the sight of craters Copernicus (left of center) and Clavius (far to the south); they've recently emerged from darkness and are nicely accentuated by the sharp shadows cast across their floors. Beautiful!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Lunation 196: The 5-Day-Old Moon

Our binocular tour of Luna continues; at five days "old" the retreating Terminator has now revealed Mare Serenitatis, the Sea of Serenity crowned at its north-eastern border by the walled plain Posidonus (at three o'clock). Slightly further south the Sea of Tranquility is nearly exposed to the long Lunar day.

At the halfway mark of the Terminator we can see a series of remarkable crater and walled plain formations--formed by the impact of asteroids and other solar system debris. Note how the Terminator itself dimples into the darkness just above crater Theophilus--imagine the rugged terrain where dawn would rise many hours ahead of the regular line of daylight!

Monday, November 16, 2015

Lunation 196: The 4-Day-Old Moon

At four days into Lunation 196 we can see still more detail on the face of Luna. At the top of the growing crescent we can see the twin craters of Hercules and Atlas; just above them we see the fairly featureless plain that is the beginning of the Frozen Sea, or Mare Frigoris. South of the twins the small, distinct crater Macrobius stands as the gatekeeper to the large oval of Mare Crisium and irregular edge of the Sea of Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis), that basaltic plain where the first human steps were taken back in 1969.

The Southern Highlands are coming into view, a vast jumble of impact (and possibly some volcanic) craters. Along the Terminator at six o'clock we find the odd complex of craters Brenner, Fabricius and Metius, and following the line of daylight another pair of twin craters, Rosenberger and Vlacq.

Finally, far to the south (seven o'clock) we can see that broken effect caused by crater walls' shadows creating pools of darkness; the floors of some craters at the Moon's poles never see sunlight, and might someday be a source of water ice for future Lunar explorers and even colonizers!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Lunation 196: The 3-Day-Old Moon

Observing the 3-day-old Moon at the James River Crab Shack. Luna continues to slowly unveil details as the Terminator moves across its disk. Tonight we see revealed all of Mare Crisium (Sea of Crises) and part of Mare Fecunditatis (Sea of Fertility).

Whilst "on station" I tried my hand at time-exposures, using my observing partner Larry E Hastings as foreground subject as cars cruised past on and off of the nearby James River Bridge. The results were pretty encouraging for me (I'll try further imagery of this type in the near-future!) and I think Larry's wife Carla Burroughs will enjoy as well.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Lunation 196: The 2-Day-Old Moon

The "old moon in the young moon's arms"; a 2-day-old Moon hangs above the western horizon. Already we are able to see some details along the sun-lit edge; the Sea of Crises (Mare Crisium) can be seen at "three-thirty" while further down the curve of the crescent we can make out craters Langrenus, Vendelinus, Petavius, Hase and Furnerius. Far down the bright limb its line is broken--this is the result of mountains and crater walls blocking the Suns sharply-angled light--casting long shadows that we can see from a quarter-million-miles away!

Perhaps the most fascinating thing about the slender crescent Moon at this time in its lunation is "Earthshine"--sunlight reflecting from Earth--dimly illuminating that face of the Moon which still languishes in night. We can see all of the major "seas" and a suggestion of the cratered "highlands", but it seems more a rough sketch than clear image. Imagine the sight (still unseen by any human) of a cratered moon-scape lit only by the light of distant Earth!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Lunation 196: The 1-Day-Old Moon

The Thinnest Possible Crescent Moon?
Good friend Larry H. joined me at the Crab Shack to greet the kind'a Young Moon--only 1 day and 4.5 hours "old"--as it set about an hour after the Sun. Beautiful, mostly-clear evening (some clouds 'round the horizon), and quite warm for mid-November. This is the beginning of Lunation 196, and I'm looking forward (when weather allows) to recording the advancing phases of Luna as we head once more toward Full.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Beyond Belief?

I had another one of THOSE conversations earlier. You know the kind; what begins as an honest, enjoyable discussion of personally held beliefs suddenly escalates into a one-sided shouting match (for the record, I was on the receiving end of the abuse, a situation I do not enjoy). The subject of the diatribe: My Atheism. No, not Atheism in general or in principle but My Own particular case, which I soon discovered was seen as a personal affront to the sensibilities of the Person On The Other Side of the discussion-turned drama session.
What was the big deal? Well, it seems that this person was of the opinion that Atheists deny the existence of a deity, and that my statement of my personal non-belief was an attack on this individual's OWN belief in whichever of the many versions of deity he/she places on a pedestal.
This person was quick on the attack: didn't I know that SCIENCE had proved the existence of a Grand Designer? Wasn't I aware of the vast quantity of historical evidence for a planetary flash-flood that wiped out all but a handful of people? Hadn't I heard the Good News?
Well, yes. I have heard all of the above. I've seen YouTube videos galore that decry "Darwinism" and extol the Design built into our DNA and the very ground we walk upon (including the dinosaur bones buried to "test" faith). And I have read the books as well; Old and New, Psalms and Suras and Revelatory texts all around. I've been in hundreds of THESE conversations as well; sometimes the exchange of views and ideas is frank and informative, often educational. Sometimes, not so much.
I remain unconvinced. I just can't believe in creators and angels and devils, any more than I can force myself to believe in unicorns and dragons or the power of diluted water to carry the essence of healing tinctures or that the positions of the planets along the ecliptic at the time of my birth dictate my future and personality.

It just doesn't make sense to me. Fanciful and arbitary, like many of the Commandments and edicts and Bulls that seek to relay the supposed intent of a god or gods; it all seems of a piece with mythologies and tales of Zeus or Ra or Tiamat.

Yes, I am an Atheist. And so are you. Unless you believe whole-heartedly in ALL gods and demons then you must be Atheistic regarding Poseidon and Apollo, Hera or Ares--or perhaps even Santa Claus!

Atheism, you see, is not a belief per se; instead it is a lack of belief. It's a personal thing, just as your own beliefs are personal to you; it means that I don't believe in God or Gods in general. It most certainly does NOT mean that God or Gods do not exist.

I'm not here to challenge your world-view or to "convert" you, and most other Atheists aren't, either. Most of us respect your right to believe what you wish. But by the same coin, I and many of my fellow non-believers would appreciate it if you would respect OUR rights as well.

If you want to have friendly exchange of views, then I welcome you. If you simply MUST try to save a soul* today, talk to someone else, please.

*I don't believe in those, either...

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Lunation 195: The 22-Day-Old Moon

The Moon at 22 Days of "Age"
Seen through a fine layer of high-altitude cirrus cloud the 22-Day-Old Moon (a day past Last Quarter) is rather dim compared with only a few mornings ago. This thick crescent reflects toward us only a small fraction of the sunlight striking it's surface. In practical terms this means that I need a longer exposure to capture an image; historically this period of a Lunation is when Luna is most often ignored by casual night-time observers.

At this point the portion of Luna's face that we see is covered almost entirely by dark Maria ("Seas"), making it even less reflective--and, apparently, more drab than the First Quarter Moon, still nearly two weeks away. But there ARE impressive sights to be found here with binoculars or a small telescope.
Once again I include a basic lunar map; what craters and "seas" can YOU identify as you moonwalk with your eyes?

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Lunation 195: The 21-Day-Old Moon

A cool morning after the rains; the grass and fallen leaves are still damp and as dawn approaches I can make out Luna through the racing clouds. It will be mid-morning before the skies clear sufficiently to try imaging the Last Quarter (21-day-old) Moon, and I'll not be viewing the ongoing dance of Venus, Mars and Jupiter today due the solid overcast to the east.

The forecast for tonight, however, is looking very nice!