By Gary Becker
I used to hate when the full moon dominated the night sky. Its light hid the stars, nebulae, and clusters—all of the “beautiful” objects that I wanted to observe with a new telescope that I had spent about two years constructing.
I was 18 at the time. Moonlight was also the ban of meteor observing, the avenue through which I became involved in astronomy. A bright moon, even against a very transparent sky, decreases shooting star rates by about 75 percent.
Fortunately, age has tempered my stance against moonlight, and that’s a good thing. Let’s face it; half of our lives are spent under the influence of a bright moon, so why not simply submit, enjoy, as well as make use of its light. Several images taken under the influence of Luna are posted with the online version of this article at www.astronomy.org.
When my grandfather, Ewald Marcus, was a soldier in WW1 fighting for the Germans on the Russian front, he often read the newspaper at the end of the day by the light of a bright moon.
Yes, he always mentioned that there was a snowpack on the ground, but that is not a prerequisite for a successful read. What most people fail to realize is that it takes time for the eye to dark adapt to the moon’s subdued lighting, five to 10 minutes depending upon your age, with older people taking longer.
The other consideration is to find a location which is away from direct or indirect exterior lighting, except for the moon. You’ll have plenty of time to conduct this experiment, because as the week unfolds, the moon continues to brighten as it grows through its gibbous phase, where both sides appear to be bulbous in shape.
A very bright star will appear to trail the moon on Sunday. That’s Jupiter! On Monday (1/21), the moon approaches Jupiter to within a degree, a beautiful sight with or without binoculars. The moon reaches its full phase late on the evening of the 26th.