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Full Moon Friday: What You Can See

Talkto most astronomers, and you'll find that they have a thing about the fullmoon. The reason is that a full moon is the No. 1 cause of natural lightpollution. Its brilliant light floods the night sky, dimming all the stars andnebulae, causing astronomers to pack away their telescopes and watch televisioninstead.

However,to dedicated skywatchers, the moon has its own fascination, especially when itis full, as it will be Friday night ? the first full moon of 2010 and thebiggest full moon this year. After all, this is the only object in the solarsystem on which we can see a wealth of detailwithout any optical aid whatsoever.

Thefullmoon is particularly appealing at this time of year when it rises justaround sunset and rides high in the southern sky most of the night. In fact themoon will appear almost full tonight and Saturday night, too.

TheMoon's orbit is not a perfect circle, and Friday night's full moon willcoincide with the moon's perigee ? it's closest point to Earth. So this will bethe biggest full moon of 2010.

Thefirst thing to look for is the man in the moon, or perhaps you can more easilysee the woman in the moon or even the rabbit in the moon. One way or another,you can probably see a pattern of some sort in the play of bright and darkmarkings across the moon's face.

Thedarker areas are known as maria (singular mare, Latin for sea), though theyhave never seen a drop of water in the last four billion years. The lighterareas are mostly cratered highlands, where relatively recent asteroids havecrashed into the moon's surface, exposing bright rock beneath the surface.

Thelargest dark area on the moon, on the left side, is actually called an"ocean": the Oceanus Procellarum or Ocean of Storms. Just above it,and almost as large, is the Mare Imbrium or Sea of Showers. Opposite Imbrium onthe right side of the moon is a triangle of three smaller "seas": theMare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity), Mare Tranquillitatis (Sea of Tranquility)and Mare Crisium (Sea of Crises).

Althoughthere are smaller seas, most of the rest of the moon's near side is highlands,covered with hundreds of craters. By far the most prominent of these is Tycho,named for Tycho Brahe, the greatest astronomer of the sixteenth century. Thiscrater is brilliantly white, and is the source of a huge system of rays: brightlinear features which encircle the globe of the moon. The Tycho ray system,along with several smaller ray systems, are best seen when the moon is full.

Thereis a whole set of traditional full moon names for the various full moonsthroughout the year. This, the first full moon of the year, is known as the OldMoon. Other names are Wolf Moon, Moon After Yule, and Ice Moon. In Hindi it isknown as Paush Poornima. Its Sinhala (Buddhist) name is Duruthu Poya.

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Thisarticle was provided to SPACE.com by Starry Night Education, theleader in space science curriculum solutions.

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