Moon Landing Day!

This event is so unprecedented that efforts have been made to have it officially recognized as a national or even an international holiday. The premise is that if there is a Columbus Day on the calendar, there certainly should be a Moon Landing Day!  Columbus set foot on another continent—but the Apollo astronauts set foot on another world!  While this suggestion has been under consideration on several fronts, nothing has developed so far to make it happen.


There are at least two ways to celebrate this occasion.  A “public” one is to remind everyone you can about it by greeting them with “Happy Moon Landing Day!”  This includes family members, relatives, neighbors, teachers, fellow workers, folks at checkout counters, and maybe even a legislator or two you happen to personally know.  The reaction you get may be a knowing look and smile—or a puzzled look, which then opens an opportunity to explain what you mean.  I always enjoy doing this all day and evening long every July 20th!


A second personal way is to make a point of actually observing the Moon itself this month.  On the night of the Apollo touchdown, the Moon was about a 35% crescent—or slightly less than half-full.  Many wonder why NASA didn’t pick a Full-Moon for the landing, but they did have a very important reason for choosing the phase they did.  On July 20th, 1969, the Sun had just risen on the chosen landing site in the Sea of Tranquility.  That low Sun cast long dark shadows of craters, boulders, and uneven surfaces on the Moon—features that would be hazards for a landing and which would be far less perceptible if the Sun were overhead.


To see the location of the landing site, look about halfway down from the top of the Moon and a third of the way in from the right hand edge.  This month our lovely “Queen of the Night” will be nearly half-full on the 24th and approximately at the same phase as it was on that July 20th  night.  But any time after that through the end of the month works well for looking toward the landing area with the unaided-eye.   The best view will be with binoculars, which makes the spot more definite.  And it’s enough optical aid that it still shows the Moon with lots of sky around it, giving the impression that it’s floating in space—which, of course, it is!   The 3-D illusion of depth perception provided by using both eyes with such glasses makes this even more real.


(Incidentally, for those wanting to see the Full Moon itself, it happens on the evening on July 3rd and then again one day after the end of the month, on August 1st.)


— James Mullaney

Former assistant editor at Sky & Telescope magazine & author of nine books on stargazing. His latest, Celebrating the Universe!, is available from