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Oh, Crescent Moon

12-23-11 Crescent Moon Chumack

Even though owning a telescope will suddenly open up unseen worlds in the night sky, from clusters to galaxies to nebulae, the best sight will always be the moon. This is especially true for beginners because the moon is easy to find and the detail never disappoints.

For anyone who received a telescope over Christmas, the moon will be up in the early evenings for the rest of the year, hanging around a bit longer each night and growing fuller as it comes out of its most recent new phase, which was on Christmas Eve.

One of the very noticeable features on the moon when it is about 3 days old, which it will be on the 27th, is the large dark circle in the upper right area. This is Mare Crisium, or the Sea of Crises, one of the old lava-filled basins distinguishable by its dark hue. Each following night as more of the moon is lit, you will see more craters and mare appear. The large one below Mare Crisium is Mare Fedcunditatis, or the Sea of Fertility, and to the upper left of it separated by a thin white ridge, visible around December 30 this month, is Mare Tranquillitatis, or the Sea of Tranquility. This mare is famous for being the landing site of Apollo 11, the location of where humans first stepped on the moon.

A couple notable bright spots to point out on the moon over the coming week are three white craters. Near the bottom right edge of Mare Fecunditatis is a white circular crater known as Langrenus. Through a telescope you can see the central peaks on the crater's floor. To Langrenus and Mare Fecunditatis's lower left are two bright white craters close together. These two craters are Stevinus (upper left crater) and Furnerius (lower right crater). Both craters have a prominent ray system of material that was ejected during the impacts that created them long ago. See if you can trace the chain of craters that leads from Stevinus and Furnerius back up to Langrenus.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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