Moonshine

The full moon shines over Lake Ontario at Colborne, casting its light across the night water. It's a sight that we welcome on a summer evening: no flashlights required!

The moon is always with us, and we take it for granted, lighting our way home at night, regulating the tides, and when it's full, causing havoc in emergency departments worldwide....

It was once part of Earth, but an ancient asteroid impact, millions of years ago, cast it into orbit, and now the two bodies are tied together by gravitational pull.

Although it features topography similar to Earth's: mountains, plains, and "seas," the moon is very different. Its mountains are neither volcanic nor formed by tectonic plate upheaval. Lunar mountains are the result of asteroid strikes. They are the edges of deep craters. The moon's seas, like the NASA landing site, the Sea of Tranquility, are actually plains, relatively flat, dry areas between peaks.

The most amazing thing about our moon is its influence on earthly matter: as it orbits the earth, the waters on our planet's surface bulge, moving towards and away from the moon as high and low tides.

Unlike Earth, however, the moon has no weather and therefore nothing erodes. The footprints of the American astronauts who landed there in the 1960s and '70s will never blow away, and the flags they planted, "fluttering" courtesy of a telescoping horizontal rod, still fly. Conspiracy theorists place the moon landing in a studio in California, but I am certain that on that night in 1969, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped onto a new world. The American lunar program delivered proof of the theory advanced by Galileo in 1609 that the moon's surface was not smooth, or made of cheese, but rough and rocky.

The ancient pursuits of farming and fishing are governed by the moon. Farmers believed that the moon affected moisture and therefore the time when the moon was waxing was the best time to plant. The waning moon made weeding and pruning more effective. And fisherman believed that the time between the new and full moon was the best time for a healthy catch, although other factors such as barometric pressure and warm and cold fronts also affect the movement of schools of fish.

Many cultures have worshipped deities connected to the moon. They are usually female, acknowledging the ties between women's menstrual cycles and the phases of the moon, but occasionally they are male, although usually paired with a female deity tied to the sun. Today, Wiccans use the phases of the moon to time their rituals, and the lunar calendar tells Jews, Muslims, and the Chinese, when cultural and religious festivals begin and end.

Ancient peoples saw faces and animals in the patches of light and dark on the surface of the moon, but more modern technology, such as an iPhone attached to a refractor telescope, can produce breathtaking images of the surface of the Moon. Take a look at the Astrophotography gallery on this website to see some amazing photos I took with my Skywatcher 130mm diameter/ 650mm focal length refractor telescope, my iPhone, and my Canon camera. Essentially, a refractor telescope bends light to concentrate it and therefore allows the human eye to see further than it would unaided.

The next full moons are June 13th and July 12th. When obliged to be in the city, I often take my telescope to Toronto's Cherry Beach, so if you're walking on the beach on a moonlit night, here's a telescope etiquette tip: don't hesitate to walk up and ask for a look. People with telescopes just love to share the moon and the stars!

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