Friday, March 4, 2011

“Old” Moon Yesterday, “Young” Moon Tomorrow

The Moon, 33 hours before New, yesteray morning.

Today is Friday, March 4, 2011, which also happens to be the day of New Moon for the month. If one wants to be really specific about it, New Moon occurs at 3:46pm EST today, which makes for an unusual viewing opportunity in that it is possible to view the Moon both the day before and after new. Normally, because of New Moon timing, the Moon is usually invisible one of the days. This month is the exception.

Yesterday, the morning of March 3, a 33 hours from new near Old Moon (to be a true Old Moon, it must be less that 24 hours from New) was visible in the sky just ahead of sunrise. While not an overly challenging target for lunar observers thanks to both the amount of illumination and the fact that it was in the morning (and thus no risk for haze), the Moon was still a pretty sight that deserved a look. If you missed it, don't fret, there is an encore tomorrow.

Just after sunset on Saturday, due West, and very low, there will be a near “Young” Moon that will be 27 hours old at the time it pops out of the twilight sky. Thinner (and more spectacular than the 33 hours before New Moon on Thursday morning), sighting Luna this time will be more challenging thanks to the fact that it is 6 hours closer to New (and therefore not as well lit) and, the bane of Young Moon hunters' existence, haze, will be a factor. Believe it or not, haze can appear in winter just like in summer, you're never safe from it!

If you're an experienced Young Moon hunter, feel free to stop reading right here. New to the Young Moon hunt? Read on.

To increase one's odds of seeing the Young Moon (yes, I know, it's not a true Young Moon), three things are musts:

1. Binoculars are a good idea. For a Moon as well lit as one that's 27 hours old, even small binoculars, say 5-7x magnification, should work just fine.

2. Your binoculars' field of view. Knowing the field of view in binoculars will help you in knowing how far off the horizon to scan. Generally speaking, with 5-7x binoculars, you should be able to get the horizon at the bottom of your field while still sweeping up the Moon.

3. Location. Scout out a location early, with the emphasis being on two important factors: horizon and direction. First, as low a horizon as possible is good as the Moon will be only about 5 degrees (about 5 little finger widths held at arm's length) above the horizon. Second, direction. Since you want to look West, it's important to know where the cardinal directions are so you know where to look.

Now, armed with the knowledge to be a successful Young Moon hunter, go out Friday night and scan the hopefully cloud and haze free horizon and bag yourself a near Young Moon in a dry run for what is the Holy Grail to lunar observers: a true Young Moon, which will come on Tuesday, May 3 in the form of a 17 hour old sliver.

The sky set for about 6:36pm EST on Saturday, March 5.

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