'Observe the Moon Night' to Light Up Skywatchers on Saturday

A setting, waning crescent moon amid the thin line of Earth's atmosphere.
A setting, waning crescent moon amid the thin line of Earth's atmosphere. (Image credit: NASA)

This weekend, the nearly full moon will to take center stage Saturday night for skywatchers around the world.

Amateur astronomers and casual stargazers are gearing up for the second annual International Observe the Moon Night on Saturday (Oct. 8), in what promises to be a fun and stimulating public event, organizers say.

NASA and lunar enthusiasts the world over are set to celebrate Earth's natural satellite tomorrow in a worldwide event designed to engage people in lunar science and education. Space enthusiasts and the general public are invited to gather together, look up, and learn more facts about the moon.

International Observe the Moon Night got its start after two earlier NASA celebrations that aimed to spark interest and enthusiasm about Earth's nearest neighbor in the sky. [Photos: Harvest Moon of 2011]

The full moon is expected to peak on Oct. 12, but it will be the smallest and most distant full moon of the year. This year's International Observe the Moon Night also coincides with the peak of the Draconid meteor shower, which is expected to deliver hundreds of "shooting stars" per hour. But, the meteor shower's peak could be largely invisible to skywatchers, since it occurs during daylight hours in North America, and elsewhere, the nearly full moon will likely outshine the pretty light show.

Several NASA centers, such as the Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif., Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will host public events tomorrow night.

The event organizers include scientists, educators and moon buffs from government, non-profit organizations and businesses across the U.S. and the world.

"We believe in the inspirational power of the moon — a celestial body that has influenced human lives since the dawn of time," the event's website reads. "Through International Observe the Moon Night, we hope [to] instill in the public a sense of wonderment and curiosity about our moon."

Last year, there were 278 moon-watching events in more than 40 countries, including China, Germany and Egypt.

NASA has one spacecraft circling the moon, a pair of small spacecraft that recently entered into the moon's orbit, and a pair of twin probes that are expected to arrive at the moon by New Year's Day.

The unmanned Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the moon since June 2009. The car-size spacecraft recently snapped images of three Apollo landing sites that revealed new details about the regions on the moon that were visited by humans. The $504 million probe is currently on an extended mission through at least September 2012.

The two small Artemis probes, which stand for Acceleration, Reconnection, Turbulence and Electrodynamics of the Moon’s Interaction with the Sun, began their lunar orbit journey over a year and a half ago. This summer, both probes entered into lunar orbit, where they will study the moon's interior and surface composition.

Last month, NASA successfully launched two identical spacecraft on a mission to unlock mysteries of the moon that are hidden beneath its surface. The $496 million Grail mission (short for Gravity Recovery And Interior Laboratory) will closely study the interior of the moon, from crust to core, and will map the moon's gravitational field in unprecedented detail.

To learn about any International Observe the Moon Night activities in your area, check out the event's website.

Editor's note: If you attend an event for International Observe the Moon Night and snap amazing photos of the moon, and would like to share them with SPACE.com for a possible story or gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at: tmalik@space.com.

You can follow SPACE.com staff writer Denise Chow on Twitter @denisechow. Follow SPACE.com for the latest in space science and exploration news on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.

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Denise Chow
NBC News science writer

Denise Chow is a former Space.com staff writer who then worked as assistant managing editor at Live Science before moving to NBC News as a science reporter, where she focuses on general science and climate change. She spent two years with Space.com, writing about rocket launches and covering NASA's final three space shuttle missions, before joining the Live Science team in 2013. A Canadian transplant, Denise has a bachelor's degree from the University of Toronto, and a master's degree in journalism from New York University. At NBC News, Denise covers general science and climate change.