This weekend our night sky is filled with moonlight, as the Full Moon, the Hunter's Moon, falls on October 18th. Even Full Moons can be fun and interesting!
Most of us in Western culture have heard of or seen the "Man In The Moon." However, not all of us can recognize it.
Left is a representation of the full Moon, from The Virtual Moon Atlas software. Can you see the Man in the Moon in it? Or other shapes?
The Man In the Moon is relatively easy to see. Mostly comprising of two Mare, Ibrium upper left, Tranquillitatis to the right, and Oceanus Procellarum lower left. The nose "area" is pronounced brightening between the three.
Surely, humans have been making this "face" on the Moon since antiquity.
The idea of a face on the Moon even found its way into "modern" culture in early films. Those of you who watched the 2011 movie Hugo saw the depiction of the Georges Méliès characterization of the "Man In The Moon" in film, which depicted a Jules Verne style adventure. This iconic image of the Man in the Moon dates back to Méliès' 1902 silent French film Voyage dans la Lune, or Trip to the Moon.
But did you know there are other shapes to be seen in the Full Moon? Here are a few:
There is a Lady in the Moon too. She and the Man in the Moon are eternal celestial companions!
Here you can see her hair, made from Mare Serenitatis above her forehead, Mare Tranquillitatis over her ear, and Mare Fecunditatis toward the back. Mare are dark areas of smooth lava flow on the lunar surface. Mare Humorum defines the area under her chin and in front of her neck, while smaller and brighter parts of the Moon create her face. The southwest part of Mare Serenitatis defines her dark eye.
Not all shapes on the Moon are human though. Particularly notable is the Lunar Rabbit, embraced by Mexican and Chinese cultures. The Rabbit is seen in two forms, which you too can trace out. Both encompass large areas of lunar Mare, and both are very believable shapes, sharing the ears, but differing in orientation of the hare's body - one is upside down, as shown below. Which one is easier for you to see?
Other examples of shapes seen on the Moon include The Drummer On The Moon, from the Ivory Coast, Tears On The Moon from Algeria, another Rabbit (and Frog) on The Moon, from China, and the Boy On The Moon from North America
Finding shapes like this is called pareidolia, a psychological phenomena we have that creates what we consider significant images from random shapes. It is easy and fun to do, and is a great way to introduce your children to the night sky, with images they will never forget. Maybe you can come up with some new shapes!
Images of the moon from The Virtual Moon Atlas. Georges Méliès Man In The Moon is public domain, from Wikipedia.
Mark Wagner is a life-long astronomy enthusiast and deep sky observer. He has spent the past twenty years popularizing amateur astronomy in the San Francisco bay area through his writing and community building. A past president of the San Jose Astronomical Association, he founded what is now the annual Golden State Star Party in California. Please post if you have comments, questions, sketches or images you've taken of the targets mentioned above.