The fascinating hobby of moon study

  • Photograph of the full moon through a telescope

Image Source: Gregory H. Revera from Wikimedia

I’m excited to return to moon study as a hobby! There are many new discoveries in moon study that will lead to great rewards. So without further introduction, I’ll start with these ideas:

First, watch the full moon rise from the eastern horizon — preferably with binoculars. It’s fun to see the top ridge of the moon come up first, then the rest of the moon. Select an eastern horizon that is free of obstructions. Your horizon should be as clear as possible and as level as you can find.

The moon comes up in a slightly different spot each night on the eastern horizon, so watch carefully, scanning the horizon, — and presto — here comes the moon!

The time of moonrise is indicated for each day on the comics page of the Wausau Daily Herald. Also shown is the night of the next full moon. In April, the moon will be full on the night of April 26. To us on Earth, the moon appears to be full for more than one night, so you could see the same “show” from April 25 to April 28 this year. Detailed information can also be found online.

Remember that moonrise is about 50 minutes later each night because the moon is revolving around the Earth. Thus the published time of moonrise will be different each night. Another complication is that the listed time for moonrise assumes a perfectly clear, flat horizon with no clouds. This means that it is an approximate time for when the moon actually appears. For the average observer then, there are two uncertainties for each moonrise: the exact time of rising and the exact place on the horizon where the moon will rise. Watching for any moonrise is like waiting for a geyser to erupt – except the geyser usually erupts in the same place each time!

I’d like to reflect on several occasions of witnessing the full moon rising.

First, my fellow observer was Gordon King, who was interested in all things in the natural world. We were watching on the edge of a hayfield, with a good view to the east. I had a fairly large pair of binoculars mounted on a tripod — a good idea for observing other than astronomical sights. We did not know exactly where the full moon would rise, or when, but we waited for about 10 minutes. Gordy shouted, “here it comes!” and pointed to a glow in the sky, almost due east. We aimed the binoculars on that spot and sure enough — first the top edge of the moon appeared, and slowly, after a few minutes, the whole bright moon was sitting on the edge of the world. The bottom of the moon seemed for a few moments just to rest on the horizon.

Be prepared, as Gordy and I were not, to see a huge moon, all distorted and discolored. The closer the moon is to the horizon, the more atmosphere and haze it has to shine through. You may see pink and yellow blotches all over the moon, with the moon quite distorted — sometimes lopsided. Gordon King has since passed away, but I’ll always remember how excited we were on that night.

Second, I have had a couple of scary experiences with moonrise. They both occurred while driving out of Merrill, Wisconsin. In both cases, the moon appeared much larger than the usual huge rising full moon. Spooky! In addition, the moon seemed to be very close to the Earth, about to drop onto it.

I need not have been worried; the moon is slowly spiraling ever farther from the Earth, so many millions of years from now the moon will just be a big dot in the sky, too small to scare an amateur astronomer.

Lastly, you may not believe it beforehand, but try this: whenever looking at the moon, especially a full or nearly full moon, stretch your arm out completely and hold your hand up so as to see your fingernails. The moon will seem to be about the same size as your pinky fingernail. No kidding; it’s true.

More on moon study later. Happy viewing and praise to our Creator!