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Mare Orientale spotted…

There have been some lovely clear, frosty nights in Kendal recently, and after starting off overcast last night was bone-shatteringly cold and clear too – which was brilliant timing, because I wanted to try and spot a lunar feature which we can only glimpse now and again, and is on view at the moment…

The feature in question was “Mare Orientale”, a truly enormous impact basin on the lunar farside. Because of its position on the lunar globe we never see it in all its glory – it was seen by Apollo astronauts, of course, but since Apollo ended we’ve only ever seen its true structure and shape through the robot eyes of unmanned spaceprobes – but because the Moon wobbles on its axis a bit, occasionally the nearest rim of the basin pops into view on the lunar limb, and sometimes we can even enjoy a tantalising glimpse of the dark frozen lava pool in its centre.

Here’s how we see Mare Orientale from Earth (its position is marked by teh white line)…


…but if we could somehow grab the Moon and twist it around, bringing Mare Orientale better into view, this is what it would look like…


…and if we kept spinning the Moon around, until Mare Orientale was in the centre of the disc, this is what it would look like…


Wow… imagine that… imagine if the Moon actually looked like that in our sky… how would our religions and faiths have been shaped if the rising Full Moon had looked like a big, bloated, bloodshot eye staring down at us from the heavens…?


As I said, our best views of Mare Orientale have come from craft orbiting the Moon. Here’s what it looks like from above…


Pretty impressive! But that doesn’t really give a sense of scale, does it? This will help you appreciate just how big Mare Orientale is…

MO 629km2

Incredible… and that’s why I wanted to try and see it through my scope.

At the moment we can see the closest rim of Mare Orientale as a mottled light/dark area close to the lunar limb. It’s going to be at its best after next weekend, but because this morning was so clear and still I really wanted to give it a go, so at 6am I went out into the freezing (below freezing, actually, I think it reached -4 deg C overnight!) morning and aimed my humble but trusty 4.5″ reflector at the Moon – and there it was, clear as day. Mare Orientale! 🙂

Hands shaking, breath forming white clouds around my head, I tried taking a few photos, lifting a very basic point-and-shoot digital camera up to the eyepiece and just clicking away optimistically… and yaaaay, a few of them show Mare Orientale! This is the best one…


And if you’re not sure where Mare Orientale is on that admittedly less-than-perfect image, this little animation will help (you might have to click on it to run it)…


So, there you go! Others will be taking better photos, with larger telescopes, fancier cameras and high tech kick-ass software, but I took that with my trusty little 4.5″ reflector and an almost-dead digital camera, from my own backyard. More than happy with that!

13 Responses

  1. One of these days, I’m going to finally find the snapshots I took through my telescope of Mare Orientale during the favorable libration of 2010. This web site says no great views of Orientale again until 2015: http://www.packerlighting.com/Lunar_Articles/Moon%20Article%205of6.html

  2. I found the photo. Turns out it was from 2009. When you get to the site, click on the photo to see Orientale, way over on the edge (of course).

  3. Yes I would say that Mare Orientale is a special impact crater on the moon. I do believe there is plenty of evidence that would show that it did face the earth, and it absolutely did shape beliefs. So did the Schrodinger crater when it faced earth. You know how I know it faced the earth? Because it has shaped the entire earth, every continent, and ocean. The only way you can find this out, is by flipping the moon over the earth, one more thing, you have to make the moon 5 times bigger than your told it is. Schrodinger crater can often be seen in the weather. When you see a perfect circle about 1100 miles or so in diameter in the clouds or radar, that is Schrodinger’s print. It can be seen in a few places. You should know it when you see it, this shows the real size of the moon. Check yourself using google earth, and after you see it with your own two eyes, you can decide to either believe what you see, or believe what your told to believe. Either way, all the images are from NASA, that’s what they show, for sure!

  4. By the way, you used Indonesia as an example of it’s size, right? Try looking at the perfect circle around Indonesia. The one that is totally clear on any globe, about 3000 miles in diameter. Try flipping MO and overlaying it over this circle. There is a pattern on the earth of circular shapes about this size. You make the moon 5x bigger, and you will see that the moon has impacted the earth about 12 or 13 times. Which is the number of large lunar impacts. Imbrium too, has hit the earth, what else could it have been? Crisum, MO, and the lunar south pole, have all hit the same place on the earth. I learn more every day, just by looking, confirming with weather patterns, and geologic history of the earth.

  5. Great article. I’m linking to it to illustrate a Facebook post encouraging people to look for Orientale tonight. Thanks for putting it together!

  6. According to Virtual Moon Atlas, the time when the Mare Orientale is tipped furthest toward us this month is around the 20th. I may be out that morning since the occultation of Regulus by an asteroid is predicted for the NYC, USA area just after 2am EDT on the 20th.

    • Tonight was not the best libration, but better than mean. And from California the illumination, just a few hours before Full Moon, was about perfect! We had a nice view in the 8″ refractor at Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland.

      • Wonderful!
        As my wife has heard too many times, any night is a good night for the moon!

      • Amen to that! And I should clarify that we were looking for the mountain rings surrounding the Orientale Basin, for which good illumination is more important than ideal libration, You are likely correct that the 20th will be a better night to see the dark lavas of the mare itself. I’m looking forward to it!

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  9. January 2015 is supposed to be a good time for viewing Mare Orientale. Virtual Moon Atlas gives the 14th/15th/16th as the best tilt toward us. The best view also depends on the sun angle over the area. Mid-February is also supposed to be good.

  10. Imagine the arguments if Mare Orientale was facing us. In the pre-telescope days, some with better vision might see the ‘eye’ better than others. What a debate would ensue over what it was and how it got there! Mare Orientale will be tipped toward us on October 2nd and 3rd and November 1st, 2021.

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