Much was made by the media of the so-called “super moon” which was a rare combination of a full Moon phase with Earth’s one satellite reaching the perigee, or low point, of its orbit; in this case reaching a distance of 221,567 miles.
One attention-seeking astrologer went to far as to suggest the coming lunar event possibly caused the terrible earthquake and tsunami that devastated areas of Japan on March 11. Of course that disaster occurred a full week before the “super moon” happened and the Moon was well within its normal distance range from its parent Earth. The good that did come from the attention was that people were interested in seeing our friendly Moon at its best and brightest.
The observatory had already scheduled a season-opening Public Night for March 19 –the night of the so-called super moon– which worked out well. The evening sky was clearer than it has been in quite some time and visitors began arriving early (well before Luna had risen above our local horizon). Though they enjoyed excellent tales and views of stars Sirius and Betelgeuse, and decent looks at the constellation Orion and the Great Orion Nebula, they really wanted that Moon! As soon as it cleared neighboring trees, we trained the old 9-inch refractor on Luna’s orange face. I was astonished at the detail I was seeing in the crater ejecta and other markings on the lunar surface; I don’t believe I’ve ever seen those details so pronounced in any previous viewing. I regret not being able to capture that view as a photograph. Other eyes, however, eagerly awaited their turn at the telescope.
As the evening progressed and the Moon rose, the details faded and we were left with more typical but still very good views (for so low to the horizon) of Earth’s nearest neighbor in its Full phase. Visitors climbed the ladder one-by-one and most were astonished by what they saw. The grand old telescope and its 110-year-old optics continue to excite! By the time I closed the door, we had hosted 48 visitors which, while not a world record, was somewhat larger than our average night … a bit like the Moon itself!