Chasing shadows on the Moon

MoonOdd as it may seem, the Moon is often overlooked as an observing target by amateur astronomers. They curse it for drowning out fainter objects such as galaxies and nebulae and fail to recognise its own fascinating qualities.

But the Moon, our planet’s natural satellite, must be the world that we can study in the greatest detail. Indeed, we can see more of it more easily than we can the Earth from any one spot at any one time.

As the Moon circles the Earth, it keeps essentially the same face pointed towards us. That face is continually changing its expression however thanks to the differing levels of light and shade.

We all know that the Moon goes through a range of phases during its 28-day orbit.
When the Moon is full, it presents more of itself to us than at any other phase. But, perversely, it is then also at its least revealing.

Moon a day laterThe reason is that the Moon is then reflecting the Sun’s light straight back towards us with an absence of any shadows. The result is that is shines like a brilliant, almost featureless, disk apart from the dark lunar seas, or maria.

Contrast that with the view when it is at a crescent or half-moon phase. The different angle of sunlight on the lunar mountains and craters produces shadows that bring them into sharp relief.

It can be fascinating to watch the way these features change their appearance from night to night as they move more and more into daylight.

I took a couple of photos of the Moon this week which show what a difference 24 hours make on the lunar surface. They were taken with a Nikon Coolpix 885 camera attached to a 32mm Plossl eyepiece on a Meade ETX90 telescope.

Paul Sutherland

Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.
Paul Sutherland

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Paul Sutherland

I have been a professional journalist for nearly 40 years. I write regularly for science magazines including BBC Sky at Night magazine, BBC Focus, Astronomy Now and Popular Astronomy. I have also authored three books on astronomy and contributed to others.

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