Way back in 1840, the first-ever celestial photo was taken: a picture of the Moon. Today, in our age of highly sensitive CCD sensors built into nearly every handheld camera, anyone can repeat that feat by just pointing and pressing a button.
If you haven’t tried a maximum “zoom” of the Moon, you’re in for a treat. You’ll capture craters and lunar mountains whenever the shadowing is optimal, as it is right now. Try it when the Moon is just rising or setting. If you can include a distant earthly object, you’ll be amazed.
These nights the Moon rises after midnight and is highest just after sunrise. It’s best seen in daylight. The Moon actually spends as much time in the day sky as in the night, but gets noticed mostly when it hovers against the deepest blue portion of the heavens. That’s where it is right now.
On Friday morning, September 27, you’ll see the Last Quarter Moon – a Half Moon – against the blue daytime sky all morning long. It’s highest up earliest, so if you’re out at 7 or 8 a.m., that’s best. Look high up. The next morning, Saturday, it’ll be a fat crescent, nearly half, again looking fabulous against the blue morning sky.
While a Half Moon may look superficially like any other Half Moon, it isn’t so. The First Quarter (the Half Moon lit up on the right side) is the one that everybody notices: It’s always high up at nightfall, out at dinnertime and sets around midnight. Since that’s the normal still-awake span for most of us, the First Quarter is reliably viewed by the world’s 6.9 billion people each and every month.
By contrast, the current Last Quarter (also called Third Quarter) Moon doesn’t typically clear horizon obstructions until 1 to 3 in the morning. It’s illuminated on the left, imparting an odd lighting to its features. This is the Half Moon that you’ve seen in the daytime on your way to work.
Once a month, as the Moon orbits our world, it momentarily sits in the spot directly ahead of us in space: the place toward which Earth is traveling. It happens this Friday morning and, with just a slight near-miss, also on Saturday morning, September 28. When you look at that Half Moon either morning, against the daytime morning sky, you’re gazing at the spot toward which our world zooms at 18 ½ miles per second: the look-ahead direction.
You will be right there – at the very place occupied by the Half Moon – 3 ½ hours later. So that morning, if someone asks where you’ll be for lunch, just point to the Moon.