The Moon is, on average, a distance of 239,000 miles (380,000km) from Earth and is best observed during its crescent or half phase when Sunlight strikes the Moon’s surface at an angle. It casts shadows and adds a sense of depth to the view. No shadows are seen during a full Moon, causing the overly bright Moon to appear flat and rather uninteresting through the telescope. Be sure to use a neutral Moon filter when observing the Moon. Not only does it protect your eyes from the bright glare of the Moon, but it also helps enhance contrast, providing a more dramatic image.
Using a telescope, brilliant detail can be observed on the Moon, including hundreds of lunar craters and maria, described below. Craters are round meteor impact sites covering most of the Moon’s surface. With no atmosphere on the Moon, no weather conditions exist, so the only erosive force is meteor strikes. Under these conditions, lunar craters can last for millions of years.
Maria (plural for mare) are smooth, dark areas scattered across the lunar surface. These dark areas are large ancient impact basins that were filled with lava from the interior of the Moon by the depth and force of a meteor or comet impact. Twelve Apollo astronauts left their boot prints on the Moon in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. However, no telescope on Earth is able to see these footprints or any other artifacts. In fact, the smallest lunar features that may be seen with the largest telescope on Earth are about one-half mile across.
Planets change positions in the sky as they orbit around the Sun. To locate the planets on a given day or month, consult a monthly astronomy magazine, star-chart or software application.
Venus is about nine-tenths the diameter of Earth. As Venus orbits the Sun, observers can see it go through phases (crescent, half, and full) much like those of the Moon. The disk of Venus appears white as Sunlight is reflected off the thick cloud cover that completely obscures any surface detail.
Mars is about half the diameter of Earth, and appears through the telescope as a tiny reddish-orange disk. It may be possible to see a hint of white at one of the planet’s polar ice caps. Approximately every two years, when Mars is closest to Earth in its orbit, additional detail and coloring on the planet’s surface may be visible.
Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system and is 11 times the diameter of Earth. Jupiter appears as a disk with dark lines stretching across the surface. These lines are cloud bands in the atmosphere. Four of Jupiter’s moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto) can be seen as “star-like” points of light when using even the lowest magnification. These moons orbit Jupiter so that the number of moons visible on any given night changes as they circle around the giant planet.
Saturn is nine times the diameter of Earth and appears as a small, round disk with rings extending out from either side. In 1610, Galileo, the first person to observe Saturn through a telescope, did not understand that what he was seeing were rings. Instead, he believed that Saturn had “ears”. Saturn’s rings are composed of billions of ice particles ranging in size from a speck of dust to the size of a house. The major division in Saturn’s rings, called the Cassini Division, is occasionally visible in a telescope. Titan, the largest of Saturn’s moons can also be seen as a bright, star-like object near the planet.
Copyright: Information extracted from Meade User Manual for LX200-ACF Telescope.