These two weeks are perfect for getting to know Earth’s nearest neighbour, the moon. Our natural satellite will range from being nearly at its fullest through to its smallest over this period. The moon was formed shortly after Earth, roughly 4.3 billion years ago, during a huge collision with another planet-sized object. The crash stripped Earth of its top layers, which then re-coalesced into the moon we see today — which is why the moon is entirely composed of the same minerals as Earth’s outer crust, without an iron core. The moon orbits Earth in what is called synchronous rotation, meaning that its rotation around its own axis happens at the same rate as its orbit around us. That’s why we only ever see one side of the moon. Tracking the phases of the moon is a perfect way to visualize its orbital pattern, as well as to appreciate the beauty of our rocky, cratered neighbour.
From Feb. 25–28, the moon will be in the waning gibbous phase. If you have a pair of binoculars, this is a great opportunity to use them — point them towards the moon and check out the terminator, the technical term for the shadow line on the moon’s surface. The terminator makes craters show up with sharp definition, even with the minimal magnification capability of a standard pair of binoculars. Look to the south pole of the moon to spot part of the deepest impact crater in our solar system, the Aitken basin, which is around six kilometres in depth.
Early March brings a last quarter moon, which quickly wanes to a crescent. On Mar. 2, the terminator will cut across a crater in the upper western side of the moon called Copernicus, named for the 15th century astronomer who is lauded as the founder of the heliocentric theory of our solar system which states that all the planets revolve around the sun, rather than the Earth.
Mar. 8 will feature a new moon, which means that the night sky will be free of its overpowering light. Take advantage of its absence by heading outside of town to escape light pollution — you’ll be amazed at how bright the stars are. A new moon occurs every 29.5 days when the moon is on the same side of Earth as the sun, meaning it rises and sets with the sun and we never see it.