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Mapping the Moon

By David, 31 May 2018 Activity

Photograph of the face of the Moon

The face of the Moon

Pick a time to head outside at night and see if you can find these features on the face of the Moon.

Safety: The Moon can be very bright, especially when viewed through binoculars or a telescope. Don’t use magnifying devices unless you have proper filters to make it less bright.

You will need

  • A clear night
  • A full, or close to full, Moon

What to do

  1. Look online to find out what phase the Moon is in. If using this link, select a date near the white dot, representing a full Moon. Choose a time after moonrise for this activity.
  2. At the chosen time, go outside and look at the Moon! Note that this activity was written in Australia, in the southern hemisphere. If you live in the northern hemisphere, the Moon as described in this activity will be upside down!

Dark spots

Photo of the face of the Moon, highlighting the Sea of Tranquility

Some of the most obvious features on the Moon are the large dark spots on its surface. These are known as seas or ‘maria’, which is the Latin word for seas.The seas on the Moon are not really seas at all. They are large, relatively flat areas created by volcanic eruptions. Some of the seas on the Moon may be as old as life on Earth!
Many people can see a face in the seas on the Moon. If you see a face, then the eye on the left side of the Moon (which would be the Moon’s right eye) is the Sea of Tranquility. This is where the Apollo 11 mission landed, and where humans first walked on the Moon.

Bright spots

Image of the face of the Moon, highlighting the Tycho crater

You might have noticed some brighter spots on the Moon. Most bright spots on the Moon are craters, places where space rocks hit the lunar surface. One of the easiest craters to find is called Tycho. If you imagine a face in the Moon, Tycho crater is above the eye on the right (the Moon’s left eye).
Tycho was created about 100 million years ago, during the time of the dinosaurs. That might seem like a long time ago, but it’s quite recent compared to other craters on the Moon. Over time, the brighter rocks created by the impact will get covered by darker moon dust. But for now, you can see the bright rocks at the impact site and in straight lines radiating from the crater. Some of these lines are 1500 kilometres long!

A more complete map

The image below shows several features on the surface of the Moon. The three sites shown in blue – Apollo 11, Chang’e 3 and Luna 9 are just three of the many missions that have landed on the Moon. Chang’e and Luna were robot missions, and the Apollo missions carried astronauts. They are too small and too far away to be seen, but it’s really cool imagining all the cool things that we’ve done on the Moon!

Image of the surface of the moon with all the craters labelled.

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