The single biggest thing to look at during a Public stargaze is the Moon. When our club or really just about any club schedules an event they try to make it on a quarter or slightly bigger. People love to look at the Moon. There are so many reasons. Romance certainly has a part in it. Ancient peoples look to the Moon for time, to hunt by, to plant by. How about superstition, Werewolves? They all fall under the influence of the Moon. Old Luna has been a faithful companion for billions of years. 4.6 to put a number on it. That is pretty close to how old I feel rolling out of a sleeping bag placed on the frozen ground after a long night of gazing skyward. We know tons and oodles about our dear satellite except maybe how it formed. The one theory I hang onto is the giant impact theory where something (planet sized object) made its mark on the earth waaaay back when the earth was still forming. Add a glancing blow from said object, then factor in the planetary object and a chunk of earth vaporizing causing a huge debris cloud circling the earth and thus pulling together and forming the Moon. Sure I could see that happening. Just keep in mind there are a few theories out there. so look around and see which one makes sense to you.
We choose a quarter moon to gibbous for a good reasons The moon is not as bright so you will not be as affected by the glare. the terminator will show a lot of detail. The terminator is the line of dark and light at the edge of the lit up side of the moon. There is a lot of contrast there so you can see mountains/valleys better. There are so many craters on the Moon's dark side as well as the lit side facing us on earth. Most historians will tell you that in 1609, the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei was the first person to use a telescope to study the Moon. Using a telescope with a magnification of about 2o, he was able to see the mountainous areas, craters, and rough surface of the Moon. During the time of Galileo, people believed that the Moon's surface was smooth, so his observations caused many arguments. The argument was the quality of the lens made it appear rough. Cameras did not exist at the time, so Galileo drew what he saw through his pretty crude telescope. He was right. They were wrong. The Church did not like being wrong but that is another story for later
How do we look at the Moon? A telescope is probably the best instrument for this task and it can be a small refractor and not a giant 11" Celestron Schmidt -Cassegrain scope. I think the less light gathering the better. I do not want to be blinded by the glare of so much light baking my eyeball. I used my 60mm scope for a good long while surveying the Moon. An 80mm can do a heck of a number on the Moon.I always use a filter when looking at the Moon. My very first filter was the Green glass filter. It worked but by turning the moon green, it made it hard to dispel the notion that the Moon is not made of cheese! I wish to recommend a filter for the Moon. A filter keeps the glare down so you can look at it longer with out going moon blind which is similar to snow blind. My favorite for lunar viewing is the Variable Polarizing Telescope Filter. I like it better because I can adjust the brightness level of the Moon and thereby pickup more detail. There are 13 % neutral density filters filters out there and they do a fine job. They are just not as flexible for the deed.
What exactly is there to look at on the Moon? Can we see the Apollo landing sites? Ugh No but you can explore the areas where the sites are located. Take a look at the Sea of Tranquility Apollo 11 first touched down there and men got out and set foot on the Moon. I will be working on a series of blog posts concerning that very feat.Titled: The Road to the Moon. This will be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the first man on the Moon. Back to what to look for. Craters abound so look for newer craters, the ones that have lines or rays coming from them. the lines are ejecta (the stuff that flew out of the crater when it hit. search the mare (dark spots) These are craters that went deep enough to crack the crust of the moon millions and millions of years ago when the Moon was geologically active and brought lava to the surface spilling out and filling in the crater area.
A Moon map is great thing to have along you can print one online you can get a free program to help with your Moon gaze. Free ware which I love include the Lunar Calculator lite. A very simple and cool tool to see the current phase and identify crater mare and more. Another I like is the Virtual Moon Atlas by the guy that did Cartes du Ciel, Patrick Chevalley and Christian Legrand. It comes in three versions good, real good and way over the top good. Like books? Me too and I like the Atlas of the Moon by Antonin Rukl. You can find it on Amazon. It is by Sky publishing and they do not put out junk. Knowing some of the bigger craters as well as the mare will make you a better astronomer or at the very least impress the heck out of your teacher/ instructor. I know mine were dumbstruck by the fact I knew exactly where the Sea of Tranquillity was back in the spring of 1969. That was before it became a hot destination in July.
Clear Skies and great seeing too,