University Lowbrow Astronomers

Lost on the Moon.

by Lee Vincent
Printed in Reflections: February, 2007.

As Michigan weather would have it, whenever we have clear skies, it seems like there’s just enough moonlight to wash away the faint fuzzy objects that we’ve been longing to see. Whenever this happens, I simply turn my scope toward the very object that seems to be spoiling the party—the moon.

The only problem—as a true novice, I am totally lost. Yes, of course, I know a crater when I see one, but what crater am I looking at?

About a year ago, I picked up a nice laminate ‘moon map’ that I can have with me at the eyepiece. Seemed like the perfect solution, right? Wrong, no matter what scope I’m looking through, it’s either flipped left for right, up for down, well you get the picture. As a result, it was nearly impossible to figure which way to rotate the map in order to have the same axis orientation as the image I was seeing through the eyepiece.

“Mental gymnastics like this will keep my mind sharp” I kept telling myself, but at 10:00 at night in 20 degree temperatures, my mind is too old to keep up.

The solution: “The Virtual Moon Atlas.” I recently stopped by the Ford Club’s annual swap meet in Livonia. One of their club members, Jim Frisbie, gave a presentation on binocular observing. As part of his presentation, he demonstrated a FREE software program called the Virtual Moon Atlas. Wow! I couldn’t believe it. This is just what I needed.

Here are just a few of the particulars:

  1. With just a touch of a button, I can flip the on-screen image of the moon to exactly match the ‘left/right, up/down’ image of my scope.
  2. Another button allows me to rotate the on-screen image to exactly match the axis orientation that I’m seeing through the scope.
  3. If I want to see what points of interest are along the terminator, I simply select the ‘Terminator’ tab and the ‘Interest’ level (pretty interesting, very interesting or exceptional) and up pops a list of names items to visit.
  4. From there, I can click on the item I’d like to see, and it pin-points it on the moon map.
  5. Click another button and the item is centered on the screen.
  6. Another button enlarges the map image to more closely simulate the eyepiece image.
  7. One tab gives me a wealth of information about what I’m looking at.
  8. There’s a note tab that allows me to add my own brilliant observations.
  9. If you really don’t want to have your notebook computer sitting next to you at the scope, just print out a fully labeled image and other information to have at scope-side.
  10. The best part—it’s free!

To download: I googled “Virtual Moon Atlas” and hot-linked from there (see It took about 45 minutes to download while I read and returned email. I believe it takes up nearly a Gig of disk space for the full version, but worth every byte.

Well, I still look forward to nice dark, moonless nights. Hey, while I’m dreaming let’s throw in 72 degrees and bug-less too. Until that happens, at least I have the moon to explore and when I do, I’m not quite as lost as I used to be.


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