Observing the Moon: 50 fantastic features

The Moon makes a great target to look at if you have a small telescope. Its surface shows so much detail that 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.

The Moon in sharp relief.

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.

Despite all the detail, 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.)

Full Moon: May 7
Last Quarter: May 14
New Moon: May 22
First Quarter: May 30

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!

Moon’s north-east

What to see in the north-east quadrant.

Here’s where to find some of the fantastic features visible on the north-east quadrant of the Moon. Visible lunar “seas” include Mare Tranquilitatis, where humans first walked on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission.

Moon’s south-east

What to see in the south-east quadrant.

Here’s where to find some of the fantastic features visible on the south-east quadrant of the Moon. Mare Fecunditatis and Mare Nectaris are the dark lava plains that dominate this region.

Moon’s north-west

What to see in the north-west quadrant.

Here’s where to find some of the fantastic features visible on the north-west quadrant of the Moon. Notable features include the giant impact crater Copernicus, and the Apennine mountain range.

Moon’s south-west

What to see in the south-west quadrant.

Here’s where to find some of the fantastic features visible on the south-west quadrant of the Moon. This region is heavily cratered and a fine example is Clavius.

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