Sunday, November 13, 2005

Crater Rebecca

Session Name: 20051111.1500

Each observing session is unique and there is always something that I take away, whether it is an object observed for the first time, seen with a different appreciation, events that occur around me, even happenings with the observing party. Each session has something and today's was a little girl who named her own crater on the nearly 10-day Moon.

Being on the beaten path, my observing allows me to meet many persons. Over the course of the evening, I meet many people, some out-of-towners passing through whom I'll never see again and others whom are familiar welcomed faces. Given that the evenings are dark, I rarely get to see faces, usually remembering people from what they say or how they sound. Sometimes they introduce themselves, yet I try to remember all. However, in the daytime it is quite different. Here I stand face to face in broad daylight with the passersby, explaining how one can do astronomy in the daylight. Again I point to the sky, as today, Sun is setting to the west, Venus is brilliant to the southwest, and Moon is rising in the east.

Daytime observing can be completed in a small amount of time. The sport of finding Moon and/or Venus and observing their phases and observing sunspot activity are completed in less than hour. If Venus presents a real challenge, which it hasn't been these days, then the program can take a bit longer. Otherwise, I am preoccupied with sketching Moon. After completing this, I remain for any interested passers by. In the daytime, I am little more open and invite people to have a look.

I looked at Sun briefly today. Peering through the solar-filtered right barrel of the 22x60 binoculars, I inspected the disk for any signs of sunspots, discovering none. Our star, 150 million kilometers away, seemed at peace radiating light and heat to a cool late terrestrial afternoon.

When the clouds permitted Venus was boldly visible by 3:30pm due celestial South. In the binoculars, Venus clearly is beginning to crescent, a very shallow arc present in center of an apparent last quarter, two pointed horns on the poles. It takes a steady view and crisp focus to detect the intruding sunset past the Venetian last quarter. Over the course of the hours, I noticed how its orientation, referencing the terminator, tipped from vertical (terminator noon to 6:00 if Venus was a clock, to a little forward towards a 12:30/1:00 - 6:30/7:00.) The clouds would eventually cover the skies to the south.

The first spectators to happen by were a young couple asking if they could look at Moon. It was suspended in a patch of clear, blue sky. The young woman asked if I believed in any correlation between us and the phases of Moon. I replied no, and the young man stated that woman is more attuned to them, proposing their monthly cycle as an example. The young lady remarked that she was not having the best of days. They both enjoyed many looks, taking pleasure in observing our neighbor - our nearest celestial sibling. We chatted for a bit while each shared time at the eyepieces. I described some of the major features, particularly how the maria displayed well in this light. I mentioned the fact Moon tips and rocks to show us earthlings features that are present themselves at opportune times. My attention was on the eastern limb, but one could not ignore stately Copernicus just east of the morning terminator, and not enough angle from the Sun to overwhelm its walls and floors with the great rays splashing across the disk. No this was time for the maria and great craters. Sinus Iridum was in the terminator, its arching northwestern rim rising above the black of lunar night, catching the rays of sunlight. Part of its floor was still in the night giving evidence of the Moon's sphericity.

The man asked about a feature "that would be where the forehead is", he even touched his own. I was thinking that he was describing Mare Serenitatis or Mare Tranquilitatis, however, later I would think he was describing Mare Frigoris, a serpentine feature lighter than the other maria, but still evident working its way from just above Sinus Iridum past Plato and arcing slightly up towards the north pole. If this were the feature, he had a good eye in picking up the not so obvious.

As they were leaving, the woman remarked how this made her day and now she was feeling better. The utility of sunlight served her well, even though it was hidden by the trees shortly before sunset, reflecting its warmth and light on an orb 370 kilometers distant. Today the sun's utility enabled me to see the pedestrians, and gain a little more appreciation from our interactions.

When looking naked eye at Moon the previous night, Ben remarked that libration may not be favorable for the east because Mare Crisium looked close to the limb. I didn't observe Moon so I really didn't know. With Ben's remarks still resonating today, I was surprised by the fact that Moon's eastern limb was librated, as noted earlier. Mare Humboldtianum to M. Marginis, M. Smythii, and, I think, M. Australe were all visible along the limb. Looking farther south, Clavius dominated the cratered polar region. Clavius appeared to share the same rim with one of two conspicuous craters below it. As it turns out that crater is Blancanus, Scheiner is the neighboring crater to the west. Both are elliptical shaped, liked two footsteps, from so much foreshortening.
Other features noted were: Mare Anguis just above the much larger M. Crisium; color variation in Sinus Medii, Sinus Aestum, and arts of Mare Insularum and Mare Vaporum, almost a rusty brown; Bullialdus prominent in Mare Nubium below Copernicus, and Aristotle with a ghostly large rim in Mare Imbrium.

I changed locations from the northwestern side of the Great Lawn back to the top. The Moon had risen above the trees and with Venus setting, lost behind the trees, TotL allows a better vantage point. Over the course of the session I met and shared with a number of people including a very attractive pair of women accompanied by two children, a birder, Mark, whom I've met once before with his wife Janice, Blair & Jackie who were walking across the Great Lawn, and many others. Daylight what a wonderful concept. Today, being a holiday and late in the afternoon, there were a lot of children around. Perhaps a dozen would stop as the tripod was collapsed to their height. It stayed like this for a good portion of the session to let them have peeks.

A dad and daughter stopped by. I recognized the dad from another sunset event in the summer, the conjunctions of Mercury, Venus, and Saturn - 22 June 2005. That was the day when the most unpleasant, authoritative maintenance worker radioed to his supervisor: "The situation is under control. The astronomers have complied with my instructions." This father was visibly upset at that time. I don't know if he recalled me nor did mention that I recognized him. Today, both have a look at the Moon - glorious, magnificent - against the sunset blue in the east.

The little girl steps away and taps the barrel of the bins, asking if we can get "some". He asked what and she replied binoculars. Dad shook his head, looking at her then me. When I asked, she told me her name was Rebecca. I suggested something even better that Dad could name a crater for her. He prompted her to look in the eyepieces and look for a smiley face. She stood peering into them, inspecting Moon's surface. She found a candidate, and then promptly named it Crater Rebecca. Hopefully, one day we can turn the pages of Sky & Telescope, or a new Moon atlas, to see which one is named for Rebecca and learn of her contributions to the science that earned her a name on Moon. For the time being, reaching out into space from Central Park, admiring that beauty can come from a rock, inspecting its surface of features, and expressing her fascination is more than enough to earn a named crater on the Moon.