Friday, September 22, 2023

Spot the landing site


Buzz Aldrin on the Moon (courtesy of NASA)

Amateur astronomer Brian Watkiss peers into the Village night sky.

Imagine a vehicle weighing two thousand tons. A small ship perhaps? Now imagine that this vehicle can actually fly! The stuff of science fiction, you’d think, but these things actually existed more than fifty years ago, built by NASA and called Saturn V (five) and this month marks exactly fifty years since one launched to land men on the Moon for the first time.

Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins took off on July 16th, and on July 21st (20th in the USA) Neil and Buzz walked on the Moon while Michael Collins became the loneliest man in the universe as he went round the back of the Moon in the Command Module and out of touch with the rest of the world.

So, where did they land? Yes, on the Moon, of course, but exactly where? Well, the Moon is new on the 2nd so you can’t see it at all until about the 4th, when it will be a very thin crescent, very low in the west for a short while during sunset. This is a great time to try and spot the Moon; it feels completely different when it’s this skinny and Mercury is just below it this month too.

The 9th sees first quarter when we actually see a half Moon and we can start to find the Apollo 11 landing site. You should be able to make out a series of darker patches down this part of the Moon, the top one being the Sea of Serenity which merges into the next one down, the Sea of Tranquillity.

landing site
Site of “Tranquility Base”

It was at the bottom left-hand corner of this patch where they set up “Tranquillity Base” all those years ago and Neil took that famous picture of Buzz. Incidentally, there is reputed to be only one photo of Neil on the Moon and he’s got his back to the camera in that. This is because he hogged the camera most of the time – the same reason there are very few pictures of me on holiday!

As the days go by, the Terminator, the line that divides the light part of the Moon from the dark part (as opposed to the time-travelling robot), moves further left until it is full on the 16th. It also rises later and towards the end of the month it can only be seen during daylight.

Now you will have been seeing a really bright “star” in the evenings during the past few weeks. This is, in fact, Jupiter, the largest of all the planets and really dominating the sky at the moment. It will be with us all summer and because of the time of year, it will never get very high in the sky.

It will be joined by Saturn, which rises a couple of hours later so may be a little too late for most people to see – but could be something to look out for if you’re wandering home after eleven at night for any reason.

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