It Is The Very Model of a Modern Moon Menagerie…

“The Modern Moon: A Personal View” by Charles A. Wood

Published in 2003 by Sky Publishing Corp, it weighs in at 209 pages all in. No errors noted.

This was a recent acquisition to the Lunar Library, the result of a chance encounter at Half-Price Books. Flipping through it, I was immediately impressed with the variety of the information being displayed, and moved it up to the top of my to-read list. I’m glad I did. Mr. Wood has a long and distinguished background in Lunar science, and has contributed to many notable projects over the last several decades. He is best known now for his interview with Out of the Cradle, and also a little something known as the Lunar Photo of the Day (LPOD). He therefore brings a wealth of knowledge to this work, and what a work it is.

First off, it is not an observing guide. It’s not really structured for that, though Mr. Wood directs the reader to a number of resources to that end. It’s also not a book on Lunar mineralogy, nor a historical work, nor yet another Apollo redux. Rather it weaves together all of these Lunar aspects, and many more, to give the reader a guided tour of the visible face of the Moon that’s thoroughly modern and up-to-date.

He starts with a quick overview of observing the Moon, a topic he has well covered in his column in Sky & Telescope. He steps through five stages to a full Moon, noting the most easily visible and recognizable features. Thus, for the 4-day old Moon only four features are noted: Mare Crisium, Cleomedes, Langrenus and Petavius. It’s like dipping your toes in the shallow end of the pool. Next we visit the two basic surface-altering features on the Moon – impact craters and lava flows. It was here that I learned a new word (glacis), and brushed up on my crater science. Then we start wandering around the Moon.

First stop: Imbrium. As with each of the succeeding chapters, we start out with a great aerial view of the region. 1,200 km wide, Imbrium dominates with well-defined rims and arcuate mountain chains. We take a close look at the Apennines and its surroundings, and Mr. Wood puts them in a selenologic context that explains why the Apollo 15 astronauts landed nearby and what they were looking for. We sweep around Imbrium, examining craters and their mysteries that we’ve spent so many years trying to understand. In the next chapter we visit the lava flows that have made Imbrium a mare, the ripples from the Moon ‘settling in’ as she cools, and are left with the question of why The Baby is crawling away from The Skull.

Other mare are visited – Serenity, Tranquility, Crisis, Nectar, Clouds, Rains and the great ocean of Storms which may be the traces of a gargantuan impact basin underlying most of the others. The early Solar system was a dangerous place to be, no question about it.

The book is rich in the kind of anecdotal wisdom that helps to give flow to the text. This book can easily serve as a textbook (and has), but it is not a dull treatise, nor a recitation of the features of slices of the Moon. Mr. Wood tells a story of the Moon, and engagingly so. I’ll cite as an example a feature that I am now curious about seeing – crater Wargentin near Schickard. Here’s Mr. Wood’s text:

“In ‘The Moon’ Elger compares Wargentin to a “shallow oval dish turned upside down.” The material filling the crater floor rises entirely to the crests and perhaps even outflows the western and northern rims, but the southern rim (especially near Nasmyth) rises a few hundred meters above the elevated floor. This filling is widely considered to be lava, though a feeble argument has been made that it is ejecta from the nearby Orientale basin impact – an argument that conspicuously fails to account for the fact that other nearby craters aren’t filled. A low, forked ridge (like a bird’s foot, according to Elger) extends along the elevated floor, much like a wrinkle ridge on mare surfaces. If the fill in Wargentin is lava, then the same awkward question put to the Orientale-ejecta theory has to be asked: Why did this unusual volcanic event affect just Wargentin? Well perhaps it didn’t. Read on.”

Compare this with Peter Grego’s description of Wargentin from “The Moon and How to Observe It” :

“Wargentin (84 km) appears to be a crater whose floor has been flooded with lava almost up to its rim, producing a dark, circular plateau. Several small wrinkle ridges can be discerned across Wargentin’s surface. Illuminated by a low morning Sun, Wargentin appears to lie on the southeastern floor of a larger, considerably eroded (unnamed) crater.”

In “Observing the Moon: The modern astronomer’s guide”, Gerald North describes it as:

“This is the largest (84 km diameter) of a very rare breed of lunar craters indeed – ones filled to the brim with basaltic lava. A CCD image…and…a drawing…highlights the tree-like patters of wrinkle ridges on its surface…I commend you to seek out Wargentin and have a look at it yourself. It is strange to see this lunar ‘cup that runneth over’.”

In a sense, “The Modern Moon” can serve as a gentle introduction to those who want to learn more about our Lunar companion, with tools as simple as binoculars. It also serves as a gentle introduction to the science of the Moon rocks, the important differences between the lava mares and the crustal highlands,and why they contain the materials of interest that they do. It’s also a gentle introduction to the history of our efforts to understand our Moon, and what it has taught us about the rest of the Solar system.

My favorite item in the book is found on page 127, a reproduction of a map of the Lunar South Pole drawn in 1954 by Ewen Whitaker. It is absolutely phenomenal and highlights exactly why people want to go to Malapert. Personally, looking at this drawing, I’d go for the high ground of the Leibnitz plateau, with solar cell towers over on Mt. Clementine beaming energy to the facilities.

It took a little while to work through, but it was well worth the effort. I’m much further along in identifying major aspects of the Lunar surface, and feel confident I could tackle something more focused like Peter Grego’s “Moon Observer’s Guide” or Brunier’s “le Grand Atlas de la Lune” and really get something out of it. By the time I get around to doing the American Lunar Society’s Lunar Study & Observing certificate and the Astronomical League’s Lunar Club certificate & pin, I should be in great shape for identifying features.

This book is definitely a Full Moon.

Visit the Selenography section of the Lunar Library.

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