Thursday, September 16, 2010

Interntional Observe the Moon Night

Saturday night, September 18th 2010 is the first ever "International Observe the Moon Night". This event, hosted by a consortium of lunar and planetary organizations, aims to get the public interested in space; specifically our nearest neighbor, the moon.

How can you get involved? There is a (pretty lame, I gotta say) map of events on the site. Hopefully there's one near you. But even if there isn't, the site has a download page with a map of the moon and other information. All you need are your eyes. If you would like to see more, a telescope isn't needed - a pair of binoculars will work wonderfully for lunar observing.

The best way to observe with binoculars, unless you have a tripod for astronomical viewing, is a lawn chair, preferably one that reclines. Pick a comfortable spot, sit back and enjoy. street lights or other lights in the area are not a problem, since the moon is so bright. Bracing your arms against the chair or your body will hold the binoculars steady, which will let you see much more detail, as well as being more comfortable.

As I mentioned, the moon is bright. Very bright. Unlike the sun, the moon is safe to look at through binoculars or a telescope, but if your eyes are used to the dark, the moon will appear startlingly bright. Remember to remain sitting for a minute or two after you finish observing in order to let your eyes adapt, or you are likely to trip over things in the dark.

Want even more fun? There is a photo contest too. If you have a "point and shoot" type of camera, you are probably limited to landscapes during the day or early evening. If you try to take a picture of the moon at night it will be all washed out because it is so bright compared the the sky.

If you want to try shooting a "close up" of the moon but don't have a telephoto lens, you can shoot a photo through the lens of a binocular. It is tricky though. You will need a tripod, because you won't be able to hold everything at once. After aiming the binoculars and locking the position on the tripod, put the camera up to one eyepiece and use the LCD screen to see what your camera sees. It may take some fussing to find the right spot to get a good image.

If your camera has any manual settings you can try more ambitious shots. Remember that the moon is a bright day lit object, even at night, so set your exposure accordingly. I would suggest starting with your camera's lowest ISO setting, and trying an exposure around 1/250 second at f/11 and experimenting with your camera's settings until you get something you like. Since the exposures will be short, you don't have to worry about a tripod. Here is a site that has some basic guidelines for lunar photography.

If you do observe the moon, please comment here and let me know how it was. I plan on observing from here. Clear skies!


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