Normally, I avoid deep sky observing around the full moon. It takes centre stage, washing out all the faint fuzzies. Only the brightest stars are visible; like seeing would be from downtown Vancouver.

The full moon is very bright in an astronomical telescope, which is designed to gather as much light as is practical. In my 5″ refractor, which has exquisite optics, the view is like what you would see if you were 2000 km away. Features from 2 km and up would be visible. You can see the very smooth area of Mare Tranquillitatis, where Apollo 11 landed. No sign of the actual landing, of course.

The moon is soooo stark! You don’t get deep shadows at full moon, but you do see the maria, the darker areas once thought to be oceans. The bigger craters are visible, starting with Plato, then Archimedes, Copernicus, and then Tycho, with its magnificent ray system.

The features visible on the moon are always changing with the phases. There is so much detail visible, it’s overwhelming. You owe it to yourself to see the moon in a good telescope at least once. No photograph or TV documentary can convey the reality of looking at it where it actually is.

Just for fun, I checked out the Pleiades, the famous open cluster in the shoulder of Taurus. I could barely make it out with the naked eye due to the moon’s brightness, but the scope showed the ‘diamonds on black’ look of it.

I tried unsuccessfully to see the pup, which is a companion star to Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. But the air turbulence revealed a dancing blob.

The star Betelgeuse, in Orion, is a red supergiant very near the end of its time. It will go supernova sometime in the next 100,000 years. Although it is known to be variable, it has become unusually dim since last fall. This is quite visible. You can see that it is about the same brightness as Bellatrix, which is next to it and is considerably dimmer than Rigel, in Orion’s foot.

The dimming could be due to a carbon build-up in its atmosphere. In other words, it’s sooty. There is some speculation that it might blow soon, but I wouldn’t hold my breath.

That’s Venus in the SW sky in the evening. It will be its farthest from the sun on March 24. On April 3 it will pass thru the Pleiades. Worth checking out with binoculars. Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars are close in the predawn sky. This is the year for a close approach of Mars in October. It’s going to much higher in the sky this time, and this will be one of the closer oppositions. More on this later.

Let’s hope for some good weather this year and a smoke-free summer. There’s lots to see up there. You are welcome to join us at Bells Lake Observatory near Horsefly. I can be reached at irwin8sound@gmail.com. If it’s cloudy, you are welcome to check out my gallery of speaker system designs, all solar powered. -GG

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