These dark areas formed when massive asteroid or meteorite impacts on the Moon’s surface created basins. Because the impact basins were often the lowest places on the Moon’s surface, they would begin to fill with erupting lava. The lava was similar to the basalt that erupts on Earth and, like on Earth, cooled to form a relatively dark-colored rock. We call these areas the lunar seas, or maria.
When you just look up at the Moon like the folks of old without telescopes, binoculars or a camera, you see mostly areas of white and gray. These gray patches are solidified volcanic lava flows The ancients thought they were seas like on earth. When the Moon was young about 4.5 billion years ago, its interior was still molten, and the magma would erupt onto its surface.
The lighter-colored areas are called the highlands, and show the earliest crust on the Moon, dominated by a type of rock called anorthosite, which is primarily made up of the white mineral anorthite or plagioclase.
What you see on the Moon with your eyes only will vary depending on your eyesight.
Give yourself plenty of time for your eyes to adjust and look carefully. You may be able to see some of the larger impact craters on the Moon’s surface if your vision is sharp enough, including Copernicus, Kepler, and Aristarchus and Tycho. You may even be able to see some of the bright streaks that are ray systems emanating from the Copernicus or Tycho craters, created when material was thrown outward by the force of the original impacts.
Here is a project the whole family can get involved in – wherever you live.
Set aside some time each day to look at the Moon. Record your observations just like an astronomer or scientist would do. Download and draw what you see in the in the sheet above or just keep a notebook and record what you see. Once you have completed your observations for the whole month, answer the questions below.
1. Did the Moon look the same each day? If not, describe how it changed throughout the month.
2. Did you see the Moon at the same time each day throughout the month? Was there a pattern to the time when you were able – or not able – to observe it? If so, describe the pattern.
3. Did anything ever prevent you from being able to see the Moon? If so, what? Could you figure out what the Moon would have looked like if you could have seen it? If so, how?
4. What do you think will happen to the Moon’s shape in the sky during the next week?
5. Look up information on the phases of the Moon. Indicate in your Moon Observation Log where you think the Moon most closely matched each of the following phases: Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full Moon, Waning Gibbous, Third Quarter, Waning Crescent, and New Moon.
6. What questions do you have about the Moon? Look up information about the Moon that interests you, and share what you learn with with us all.