A late-summer thunderstorm rumbled past this evening and, in its wake, a slice of clear sky to the southwest revealed a beautiful crescent Moon in the deepening twilight.
Something about that visage compelled me to go looking for poetic quotes about the Moon. I scanned scores before deciding on this simple one to share with you. It's by Jean Ingelow, from Part II of her Songs of the Night Watches: The First Watch:
Most beautiful crescent moon,
Ship of the sky!
Across the unfurrowed reaches
Often reviled as a spoiler of starlight, the Moon nonetheless delights us with an ever-changing display while making its inexorable monthly circuit around Earth. You can train a telescope at a particular crater or other feature and, by the time your evening's observing is over, the inky shadows around it will have shifted slightly but perceptibly.
Be honest: when was the last time you slewed your scope over to the Moon for some careful scrutiny? Or have you ever dusted off the binoculars stashed in the hall closet to see just how many lunar details you can pick out at 7× or 10×?
Well, if you've been looking for an excuse to do some Moonwatching, here it is: September 18th is "International Observe the Moon Night." It's the brainchild of several "Moon Units" within and related to NASA: the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter mission, Lunar Science Institute, Lunar and Planetary Institute, and Lunar Quest.
Partnering with Astronomers Without Borders, these teams hope the success of recent missions — led by last year's crater-whacking LCROSS and the ongoing LRO, along with the international missions Kaguya, Chandrayaan 1, and Chang'e 1, will rekindle public interest in observing and studying the Moon.
The plan is simple: go out and look on the 18th, when a plump, gibbous orb will be gliding across the southern half of the sky. Many organized activities are in the works; check out the event map to find one near you.
Or make your own event. Head for a pedestrian hotspot in your town with a telescope in tow, and crowds will surely gather for a look through the eyepiece. (Trust me: no matter how bad your light pollution, the Moon is still an arresting sight when seen telescopically.)
Even if your scope-less, the organizers have pulled together lots of entertaining online content for various sources, such as a lunar-exploration timeline, a guided tour, and a call for Moon-inspired poetry. The event's portal at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center is here.
If you've got the time and inclination to view the Moon multiple times in the coming weeks, I highly recommend Patrick Thibault's can't-miss Month of Moonwatching.
The plan, according to Brooke Hsu at NASA-GSFC, is to make this newfound appreciation of all things lunar an annual celebration. This year's theme is "Seeing the Moon in a whole new light!" Other themes are in the works through at least 2014.