3 July 2019 by Patrick Kiernan
“O, swear not by the moon, the fickle moon, the inconstant moon, that monthly changes in her circle orb…”
Romeo and Juliet (William Shakespeare)
Think about your living room. The items on a shelf, or a table. How often do you look at them, really look at them?
You know there’s a photo of you and a friend, or there’s a statue that Auntie Edwina gave you tucked in a corner. You know they’re there, but you’re so used to them that you barely give them a second glance. Could you, without looking, describe them? The colours, the pose, the material, or would you have to think really hard? It’s amazing how when we get used to something, we become blasé about it, not giving it a second thought.
We tend to do this with the moon. We know it’s there. Occasionally we might notice it when it’s bright and full, or if a story appears about a ‘super-moon’. How often do you look for it in the daytime? Or when it’s a thin crescent or a half moon?
Using your eyes alone you can observe the moon: notice how quickly it moves against the background stars, how it rises later and later each day, how its shape changes every day. You can make out light and dark patches on the surface, even one or two of the brightest craters.
If you have a pair of binoculars even more detail comes into view; follow the moon through its phases and you will be able to see sunlight casting shadows across mountain ranges and craters. As it orbits the Earth the angle of the sunlight changes; new shapes and areas appear. If you don’t have a camera, why not sketch what you see?
Pick an area and draw it over a few nights to see how the changing position of the Sun alters the landscape.
You could choose the border between the Sea of Tranquillity (where, in July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first human to touch another world) and the Sea of Serenity (the location for the final manned mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972). This is the area that Jordi Delpeix Borrell photographed.
Even though the moon is inactive, it is a fascinating world. When you view the ‘Our Moon’ section of the Astronomy Photographer of the Year exhibition hopefully it will inspire you to go out and look more closely at our nearest neighbour in space.
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