Observing the Moon: 50 fantastic features

If you plan to buy a telescope or have just become the owner of one, the Moon is a great first object to look at. In fact you could study it for ever! This guide to observing the Moon suggests 50 features on its rugged surface that you can find, with maps to help you locate them.

Here is an incredible view of the Moon in all its fantastic detail. All those mountain ranges, valleys, craters and other features stand out in stark relief in an image that resembles the Full Moon.

(Continues below image).

The Moon
The Moon in sharp relief.

In fact, most lunar features become impossible to discern at Full Moon because the Sun is then shining directly down onto the side facing us and so there are no shadows to reveal such detail. But the dramatic lunar features do stand out at other phases of the Moon when the Sun is casting shadows. Different parts of the Moon are better seen at different phases, depending on the angle of sunlight. The changing scenes make for fascinating viewing through a telescope.

What Nasa artists have done in producing this fascinating view is to combine all the optimum views of the lunar features into one image. This view is essentially unchanging from Earth because the Moon always keeps the same face towards us. (A gentle rocking effect, called libration, does allow us an occasional peek over different parts of the lunar limb which adds another 10% or so to the surface visible from Earth.)

Phases of the Moon

Phase First Quarter: Jul 1
Full Moon: Jul 9
Last Quarter: Jul 16
New Moon: Jul 23
Image courtesy U.S.N.O.

No other body in the universe can be observed in as much detail by astronomers as the Moon because it lies so close. A casual glance through a telescope will reveal that it is covered with craters, the scars of ancient asteroid impacts. There are so many that you could spend a lifetime observing the Moon. Many people do, watching their changing appearance from night to night as the Sun shines at different angles.

But it is difficult for a beginner to know where to start and what to see. Skymania has come up with a “Top 50” that make a useful observer’s list to check through. Some are a lot bigger and easier to spot than others, but it will hopefully be fun to try. You can download a check sheet here! (PDF file).

The view of the Moon here is how it appears with the unaided eye or through binoculars from mid-Northern latitudes. The view will be the other way up through an astronomical telescope and some telescopes will also show a mirror image. From the southern hemisphere, the view here is upside down for binocular users but the right way up through a telescope.

Our Fantastic 50 is just a selection. Many fine features have been left off the list and no doubt other people would have come up with other lists! The 50 are all listed on this page and we have divided the Moon into four quadrants to show where you will find each. Click on the features’ names to be taken to the quadrant where each lies. You can also download a checklist of the 50 to tick off as you spot them. Good luck observing the Moon!

Our list of 50 features

1. Albategnius
2. Alphonsus
3. Alpine Valley
4. Altai scarp
5. Apennines
6. Archimedes
7. Aristarchus
8. Aristillus
9. Aristoteles
10. Arzachel
11. Autolycus
12. Bessel
13. Birt
14. Bullialdus
15. Catharina
16. Clavius
17. Copernicus
18. Cyrillus
19. Endymion
20. Eudoxus
21. Fracastorius
22. Gassendi
23. Grimaldi
24. Herodotus
25. Hevelius
26. Hipparchus
27. Kepler
28. Lamont
29. Langrenus
30. Linné
31. Menelaus
32. Petavius
33. Piccolomini
34. Plato
35. Posidonius
36. Proclus
37. Ptolemaeus
38. Purbach
39. Regiomontanus
40. Riccioli
41. Rümker
42. Schickard
43. Schiller
44. Stöfler
45. Straight Wall
46. Theophilus
47. Tycho
48. Vendelinus
49. Walter
50. Wargentin


North-east quadrant


What to see in the north-east.

Here’s where to find some of the fantastic features visible on the north-east quadrant of the Moon.

South-east quadrant


What to see in the south-east.

Here’s where to find some of the fantastic features visible on the south-east quadrant of the Moon.

North-west quadrant


What to see in the north-west.

Here’s where to find some of the fantastic features visible on the north-west quadrant of the Moon.

South-west quadrant


What to see in the south-west.

Here’s where to find some of the fantastic features visible on the south-west quadrant of the Moon.

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3 thoughts on “Observing the Moon: 50 fantastic features

  • Pingback: Five top targets for your new telescope | Skymania News and Guide

  • 04/07/2012 at 6:34 am

    I appreciate the kind comments on the image. However this mosaic, called Lunar Earthbased Mosaic-1, was done near the beginning of the 60's by, I believe, the Air Force Chart and Information Center. They trimmed many telescope photos and modaiced them with glue, then air brushed away the seams by hand. I had nothing to do with the preparation of this mosaic.

    At the end of the 60's I used two large prints of this mosaic as the 'base' of repainted portrayals of the Moon in earlier geologic eras, done for the U.S. Geological Survey branch of Astrogeologic studies, under the guidance of Don Wilhelms. Since their initial appearance in Icarus the reconstructed views have been widely published.

  • 07/18/2012 at 6:47 pm

    Thank you for your very modest comments Don. We remember how the skills of people like yourself have helped provide the groundwork to explore the Moon.

Comments are closed.