This month contains the date that many (including myself) consider to be the most important and significant in all of human history. It’s July 20th, 1969—when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon in the Sea of Tranquility and we traveled to another world for the first time 50 years ago!
If it’s clear on Saturday evening, July 20th, take a good long look at our beautiful Moon. Near its center you will see a large grey area. This is the Sea of Tranquility, where the Eagle Lander carrying Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin touched down on its surface The Moon will be three days past full and more than 85% illuminated. (See the hand-drawn map taken from the Scientifics’ treasure-trove classic All About Telescopes by Sam Brown.)
While the Sea of Tranquility is easily visible to the unaided eye, a much better view is to be had with binoculars. My personal favorite glass is the 10×50, but any and all will bring our satellite in closer than seen without optical aid. Small telescopes are also great so long as they are used at their lowest magnification to show the entire Moon in the same view. This makes it look like it it’s suspended in space—which, of course, it is! Higher powers showing only part of the Moon lose the effect. (By the way, no Earth-bound telescope however large will show the actual landing site itself with the Lander’s base and flag. But it’s enough just knowing you are looking at the area of touchdown.)
One of the significant benefits of that event is that there was peace nearly everywhere on Planet Earth that night as an estimated 500,000,000 people worldwide watched in disbelief and astonishment on television. It was reported that crimes and calls to police switchboards were nearly non-existent for that brief shining moment in history. If only that could have continued!
This brings up an important question. If there is a Columbus Day on the calendar, why isn’t there a national or international Moon Day (or Moon Landing Day, if you prefer)?
We’re told that Columbus landed on a new continent: but the Apollo astronauts landed on an entirely new world! Sadly, efforts with legislators by many from all fields of human endeavor to make this an official holiday have largely fallen on deaf ears. So as a skywatcher (or should that be Moonwatcher?) why not celebrate this event anyway. Many I know in the fields of astronomy and space science are planning Moon Day parties on July 20th—why not you? And if nothing else, be sure to put that date on your calendar so that it will never be forgotten!
— James Mullaney
Former assistant editor at Sky & Telescope magazine and author of 10 books on
stargazing. His latest, Celebrating the Universe!, is available from HayHouse.com.