Note that you are not expected to show any of the features that are visible on the lit part of the Moon. You may do so for extra credit as discussed below, but all you have
to show is the limb
(the circular outline of the Moon, shown on the lower left in the example), and the terminator
(the dividing line between the lit or day side of the Moon, and the unlit or night side of the Moon, shown on the upper right in the example). Be very careful how you draw the terminator. The terminator always looks like a meridian of longitude, curving away from the center of the Moon, other than when it cuts straight through the middle of the Moon at quarter Moon, and the two ends of the terminator are always exactly
on opposite sides of the center of the Moon. If, in your drawing, the two ends of the terminator are not opposite each other, it would show that your drawing is not very accurate, and you would receive less credit than usual.
Sometimes people tell me that they don't know how to draw things, and that I should not expect them to produce drawings that look in any way like the Moon. This is complete nonsense. Artists are not born, they are made. Especially where drawing is concerned, the old adage "Practice makes perfect" is the key to good work. All you have to do to produce good drawings is to draw what you see, then look at what you drew. If your drawing looks exactly the same as what you were drawing, you are done. If it doesn't, you simply erase any lines that don't look right, and re-draw them. With practice, anyone
can produce very nice outline drawings, such as required for this project, and almost anyone who makes any real effort can produce detailed drawings. With that in mind, I do realize that some people have physical handicaps that make it difficult for them to do really good work. Even in that case, however, I expect them to produce drawings that look enough like what they saw that I can be sure they really did look at the Moon, and it did look approximately like their drawings.
It is very important that not only your drawings, but also the data recorded with the drawings (the time and date and the direction of the Moon) be accurate. If you say that you observed the Moon at a date and time when it could not possibly have been visible, or say that it was setting in the West at a time when it was actually rising in the East, or show it tilted down to the right when it was actually tilted down to the left, I would have to wonder whether you really went out and looked at the Moon, or just looked at one of the Moon phase calendars that are available on the Internet (which, although they sometimes show the shape of the Moon correctly, rarely show how it is tilted, or where it is in the sky), or even just completely made up the observation. If you don't want me to wonder about such things, you have to correctly indicate whether your observations were made at an "am" or "pm" time, accurately show the way it was tilted, with up in the sky up on your drawing, and horizontal in the sky horizontal on your diagram, and learn to correctly identify directions in the sky.
When you start doing this project, you will have only a vague idea of how to indicate the Moon's direction (low in the East, high in the South, halfway up in the Southwest, etc.), but later in the semester I will show you how to estimate directions referred to as altitude
(how high the Moon is), and azimuth
(what direction it is in, relative to true North). Once you have mastered that technique, you should start using that more accurate method of recording directions, but until then, less accurate directions, as long as they are at least somewhat believable, are perfectly all right. However, as stated above, if you think that you are observing the Moon in one direction, when it is actually in some other direction, you will be marked down, so you will have to learn how to estimate at least general directions as soon as possible. If you have no idea which direction is which, you may need to refer to local maps to orient yourself, or to ask someone to help you with your directions.
It is not usually necessary to indicate where you were when you made your observation, as the Moon looks essentially the same at any given time, no matter where you are on the Earth (since the Moon is about a quarter of a million miles away, a change in your position of a few thousand miles is relatively insignificant). However, the Moon's direction, and the way that it is tilted, may be affected if you are well around the curve of the Earth, so if you are more than a hundred miles from your usual observing location, you should indicate approximately where you were, so that I can take that into account in gauging the accuracy of your observations.
Doing More Detailed Drawings
As stated above, it is only required that you show the outline of the Moon, but if you want, for your own enjoyment, to show the features on the Moon in more detail, you are perfectly welcome to do so. In that case, you should make your drawings several inches in diameter, so that you have room to properly show the detail. Also, although it is possible to see the features with the "naked" eye (meaning, without any optical tools), having even a small pair of binoculars would allow you to see far more detail, and do a much better job on your drawings.
Since it would take a lot more time to do such detailed drawings, you might only have to do 30 to 40 drawings for "standard" credit, compared with 50 to 60 for outline drawings. Considering the time involved in doing detailed drawings, this is not as much "extra" credit as you might hope for, but the main purpose of this project is to see how the Moon's appearance changes over a period of time, and to get you used to looking at the sky, so I can't allow you to do a very small number of drawings and receive full credit, no matter how much work you do on each drawing. As a result, you should only do detailed drawings if you want to do so for your own enjoyment, as the extra time involved will not be completely reflected on your grade.
Sometimes, people ask if they can do this project photographically. I have no objection to anyone trying to make a photographic record of the Moon's changing appearance, as the photographs would be an even better record than hand drawings, provided that they show the Moon at least one inch in diameter, and are otherwise properly done, but there are some problems which would have to be addressed. One is that the camera, and the print of your photograph, can be turned in any direction, so there is no way to know which way was up, and which way was horizontal, unless you make a note of the orientation of the Moon when you are taking the photograph (in other words, unless you make at least a crude drawing similar to the one which would have to be done for a hand-drawn project), and then make sure to mount or print out the photographs with the proper orientation. In addition, the photograph won't usually show the date and time of your observation, or the direction which the Moon had, so you will also have to record those data. In other words, you will have to do a "standard" hand-drawn observation, just to know how to present the photograph, in addition to taking the photograph. As a result, doing a photographic project is actually more work than doing a standard project.
Another problem is that it is sometimes difficult to take a photograph with a proper exposure, and to get it properly printed. Most cameras have an auto-exposure mode which, when faced with a nearly empty night-time sky, would not properly expose the Moon's image, and in fact would normally considerably over-expose the image. As a result, unless you are willing to do considerable experimentation with proper exposure times, and, unless using a digital camera, waste a considerable amount of film, you may not end up with properly exposed images. In addition, unless you do your own photo-processing, a nearly blank image of the sky, showing only the Moon, would normally be ignored by automated photo-processors, and not printed out, unless you give specific instructions to print every picture, blank or not. Finally, unless you are using a digital camera, the cost of the film and processing can be quite high. As a result, I have had very few photographic projects turned in over the years. However, if you are interested in doing the project in this way, and can overcome the difficulties involved, your results should be well worth the effort, and could well be worth not only full credit, but also extra credit. Just be especially sure, if you try to do the project this way, to show me how you are doing early in the semester, so that I can try to help you with any difficulties which you encounter. Also, at least until you are sure that your photographs are turning out well, be sure to keep your hand-drawn "standard" observations, just in case you are unable to complete the photographic project.
As in the case of a project involving detailed drawings, although a photographic project involves more work than a standard project, you would be required to have at least 30 to 40 observations of the Moon to receive standard credit, so you should only do a photographic project for your own enjoyment, as the extra work involved will not be entirely reflected in your grade. However, if you are interested in doing a special version of the project, either by detailed hand drawings, or photographically, you may well produce a piece of work of which you can be justifiably proud, and a memento of the semester which you would enjoy having, and displaying, for the rest of your life.
Showing Me Your Work, and Turning in a Report for Grading
Regardless of how you are doing the project, it is important to show me what you have done within a week or two of starting this project, so that I can see whether you correctly understand what you are supposed to be doing, and can tell you how to improve the quality of your work, if it is not already satisfactory. I will not grade your work at this early stage, but I want to make sure that everyone knows what they doing, and are doing it well, as early in the semester as possible.
When you have finished the project, you will need to turn in a report for grading. This report would simply be all of your drawings, or photographs, in chronological order
(I will be most unhappy if I have to hunt back and forth through your report to find observations which should have been placed next to each other). The format of the report is not terribly important, but it is easiest for me to grade reports which have half a dozen to a dozen drawings on each page, instead of dozens of separate drawings, or all of the drawings on a single huge sheet. As it turns out, for reasons discussed below, you will hardly ever make more than one drawing of the Moon on any given day, so some people find it convenient to use a calendar to display their results. If you decide to do so, make sure that the calendar has a large box for each day of the month, so that you can make all of your drawings at least an inch in size, and still have room for the required information about the time and direction. Please do not
turn in a mass of odds and ends, bits and slips of paper which you just happened to have on you when you made your observations. It is perfectly all right to make your original observations on anything which happens to be convenient, but your final report should be neat and well organized.
This project is due a week before the Final.
By that time, if the weather is good, you should have at least 50 or 60 observations of the Moon, and it is not unusual for students to have as many as 70 or 80 observations. Depending upon the accuracy of your observations, and whether you took special pains with them, you may receive as little as 1/2 a point per observation, or as much as 2 points per observation, and scores for different students typically range from as little as 20 points, for projects involving very few observations, or observations of dubious quality, to as much as 75 points, for projects which have many observations of reasonably good or exceptional quality.
Although the project is due a week before the Final, I will accept it as late as the day of the Final with a penalty of 5 points per week (which could be wholly or partially made up by continuing to make additional observations). On rare occasions I may waive the penalty if the weather has been poor and students are having trouble getting a reasonable number of observations, but you shouldn't count on that unless and until I make an announcement specifically waiving the late penalty.
Finding the Moon
Most people are aware of the fact that the Moon orbits the Earth, but not everyone, unfortunately, is aware of the fact that because of this, it is not up at the same time every day. Like most objects in the sky, the Moon is up about half the time, and down about half the time, but that time changes from day to day throughout a period of about a month. The Moon orbits the Earth once every 27 and a third days, and gains one full "lap" on the Sun every 29 and a half days. As a result of this movement, it moves eastward in the sky about 13 degrees per day relative to the stars, and about 12 degrees per day relative to the Sun (the difference of 1 degree per day is because, as a result of our orbital motion around the Sun, the Sun itself appears to move 1 degree per day relative to the stars). As a result of this change in position, the Moon rises, crosses the sky, and sets nearly an hour later each day than the day before. Because of this, it will be in a different place in the sky each night, and you will not be able to see it at the same time every day. There may be a period of a couple of weeks where you can see it in some
place in the sky at some particular time, but during the next two weeks, it wouldn't be up at that time. Obviously, if you went outside to draw the Moon at a time when it wasn't even up, you could get quite discouraged, particularly if that happened every night for nearly two weeks. For that reason, you need to learn how to estimate when the Moon is up, or at least learn how to look up when it will rise and set, so that you don't waste your time, or give up looking for it.
Finding the Moon is fairly easy, if you just know when it rises and sets. Just after moonrise, it will be somewhere in the east, low in the sky (and, perhaps, even too low to see, if it is just after theoretical moonrise, and there are buildings or trees or mountains in the way). Similarly, just before moonset, it will be somewhere low in the western sky. Halfway in between moonrise and moonset, it would be in the southern part of the sky, a little earlier than that, somewhere in the southeast, and a little later, somewhere in the southwest. In other words, all you have to do to find the moon is to find out when it rises and sets, and then compare those times to the time when you actually want to go out and look for it. The closer it is to moonrise, the further east you would look to find the Moon, and the closer it is to moonset, the further west you would look to find it.
The Lazy Person's Guide to Finding the Times of Moonrise and Moonset
If you take a daily newspaper, you can usually find the times of moonset and moonrise on the weather page. Soon after moonrise, the Moon will be somewhere in the East, not long before moonset, it will be somewhere in the West, and at some in between time, it will be somewhere in the South, Southeast, or Southwest, depending upon how close to moonrise or moonset it happens to be.
If you don't take a paper, you can find the times of moonrise and moonset on the Internet. In particular, on the lab class page, under the Moon Project heading, there is a link to a site where you can click on an interactive map of the United States, and obtain that information. Once you have done so, you can estimate the position of the Moon at various times of the day in the same way as if you had looked up the times in a newspaper.
The Inquiring Person's Guide to Finding the Times of Moonrise and Moonset
Refer to Finding the Moon
for a guide to how to find the Moon from a basic knowledge of its motion.
Problems Which You Are Bound To Face In Trying To Find the Moon
You will not be able to see the Moon on the day of new moon, and it will be difficult or inconvenient to see for a couple of days before and after new moon, as it will be too close to the Sun to see during the day, and will go down so close to sunset, or come up so close to sunrise, that it may not be possible to see it while it is up. In addition, clouds, fog and rain will make it impossible to see the Moon on many days, especially if you live close to the beach, where there is a thick marine layer at some times. Because of these problems, you will need at least two or three months to make the 50 or 60 observations which are required for full credit for this project. However, you will have the entire semester to make your observations, so if you make a serious effort to observe the Moon on every day when it can be observed, you should be able to get at least that many observations even if the weather is relatively poor (in fact, we have never had a semester where the weather was so poor that dedicated students could not make the required number of observations).