The Moon

Crescent Moon. Olympus digital camera, Meade 8" SCT with 25mm eyepiece.
George Moromisato
14 March 2004

Above: Earthshine illuminates the dark side of the moon. This is a composite of two images: a 1/60th second exposure of the crescent moon and a 1 second exposure that captures the night-side of the moon lit by earth light. Both images were taken on February 23rd using an Olympus D-40 digital camera and a Meade 8" SCT with a 25mm eyepiece.

Below: Mare Nectaris on February 25th. Stacked image composed of four 1/8th second exposures. Olympus digital camera, Meade 8" SCT with 9.5mm eyepiece.

I take the moon for granted sometimes. I spend hours trying to take a picture of Mars or Saturn and end up with nothing more than a blurry disk a few hundred pixels across. My 4 megapixel camera ends up using 3.9 million pixels to record the color of deep black space. It's almost enough to make me give up astrophotography and take up a more rewarding hobby—maybe building perpetual motion machines would be less frustrating. But then I remember: The moon!

Only a quarter million miles away, the moon is so close that you can see surface features with the naked eye. With my 8" SCT and a 25mm eyepiece the moon fills the entire field of view and most of my 4 million pixels are recording lunar surface details. It's so easy to take a picture of the moon through a telescope that you can often do it by just holding the camera up to the eyepiece. Try that with Mars and you'll get black frame with a reddish smudge.

In fact, the moon is such an amazing astrophotography target that there is only one reason why I take it for granted: It's nothing but boring craters! Why couldn't the Earth be orbited by an object like Mars? I would give anything to get within a quarter million miles of Mars. A rusty red surface scarred by channels, extinct volcanoes twice as high as Everest, and polar caps waxing and waning with the seasons—there's nothing boring about Mars.

Still, I guess there is something to be said for the barren beauty of the moon. And I suppose it could be a lot worse. When the Voyager probe reached Saturn, the one thing that scientists on Earth were most eager to see was a picture of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, which appears as a bright dot from Earth, even through the best telescopes. Unfortunately, it turns out that Titan is covered in a thick reddish haze and when Voyager finally took that long-awaited picture (from a quarter million miles away) all that the scientists got was a featureless, reddish disk a few hundred pixels across. Not even a single crater was visible.

Mare Nectaris. Olympus digital camera, Meade 8" SCT with 9.5mm eyepiece.