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International Observe the Moon Night Is Coming! On Saturday September 18, what will you be watching — Earth’s only natural satellite or “American Idol”?

April 27, 2010 1 comment
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Goddard Astronomy Club president Cornelis Dutoit took this picture two days after first quarter moon. It's what you would see through a small telescope with a low-power eyepiece.

I recently bumped into Andrea Jones, a senior outreach coordinator for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission. That means she helps get LRO science into classrooms. Andrea is bright, enthusiastic, and personable — just the sort of person you want for this job.

It’s always good to get around Goddard and talk to people. You never know what you’ll learn. For example, I learned a new email emoticon from corresponding with Andrea: 😮 Does it say “I am happy and smiling while emailing with you” or “I am a hungry little baby bird; please feed me.” It’s hard to say.

InOMN logo_152More importantly, she clued me in on a cool new astronomical event of global proportions coming up in September. It’s called International Observe the Moon Night — InOMN for short. It was hatched by the LRO people at Goddard and other lunar types at NASA’s Ames Research Center in California.

Going lunar
To be part of InOMN, if only in spirit, all you have to do is look up in the sky on September 18th. A waxing gibbous moon will be (we hope) shining brightly in a clear sky in your part of the world. What will you see? Check out the chart below.

moon_chart_152When people ask me how they can “get into astronomy,” I always say: Look at the moon. It’s one of the most unappreciated heavenly bodies I know. That and the dog-bone-shaped asteroid 216 Kleopatra.

The moon and I go back a long way, at least 0.0000008% of the moon’s age. I got my first telescope for Christmas in 1974. Naturally, the first thing I did was spy on a neighbor through his kitchen window.

Ugh: some guy standing in front of the stove, cooking scrambled eggs. Not very exciting, 11-year-old-boy-wise.

Second stop: the moon. Humans had left the moon just a year and 6 days earlier after multiple missions of exploration. But Earth’s natural satellite was still terra incognita to me. I looked into the eyepiece: WOW! Vast craters and mountains leaped out of the formerly featureless glow of a waxing gibbous moon. Yes, a waxing gibbous moon, just like on September 18 this year. Some coincidence, eh?

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Goddard Astronomy Club member Daniel Antonson snapped this image using a cell phone camera, looking through the eyepiece of the club's 12-inch reflecting telescope.

If you have never looked at the moon through a telescope or binoculars, you should. Mark down September 18 on your calendar: “Observe the moon tonight.”

It’s a Saturday, so the moon will have to square off against “American Idol” and “Dancing With The Stars.” But at least give it a quick look during the commercial break.

Depending on where you live, you might benefit from the expert guidance of a local astronomy club. If you come to the event at NASA Goddard’s Visitor Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, you will meet me and my friends from the Goddard Astronomy Club and peer through their phalanx of telescopes.

Schools will be involved in InOMN, as well as major astronomical observatories. The Adler Planetarium in Chicago is jumping in. Other partners already include Astronomers Without Borders, the Museum Alliance, Mauna Kea Observatories Outreach Committee, Navajo Nation, Solar System Ambassadors, the Astronomy Society of the Pacific’s Night Sky Network, and Astronomy from the Ground Up.

Foreign nations where events will be held now include Canada, Chile, Greece, Great Britain, and Italy. Quite a party.

Hey, you don’t even need to join some fancy organization to get involved. You could host your own Observe the Moon party.

If you need information and inspiration, go to the InOMN website: http://www.observethemoonnight.org. The site is still under construction, but already includes a number of downloads to help people host InOMN events, such as a promotional flier and various moon maps. InOMN will also host a Tweet-Up and a photo contest. Follow these hashtags for updates: #InOMN and #InOMN2010.

“InOMN 2010 is only the first of what we hope will become an annual event,” Andrea says. “2011 to 2014 are already planned, and it’d be great if it could go on even after that.”

Over the moon about the moon

International Observe the Moon Night has its roots in the launch of the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, June 18, 2009.

Here at Goddard, we hosted a public event August 1 called “We’re At The Moon!” That same night, education and public outreach teams with the Lunar CRater Observation and Sensing Satellite and the NASA Lunar Science Institute hosted a similar event at Ames Research Center.

National Observe the Moon Night at Ames was part of the International Year of Astronomy, commemorating the 400th anniversary of Galileo’s astronomical observations using a telescope. One of his targets: the moon.

Both events were huge hits with the public, so the organizers started to think they were onto something. Thus was born International Observe the Moon Night.

Hope to see you there. Stay tuned to gogblog for updates.