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  • Writer's pictureAndrew Garner

Full Moon Stargazing - Yes or No?

Updated: Aug 1, 2023

Welcome back to another post, fellow stargazers! This time, I want to talk about a question that often comes up in our hobby: Is it worth stargazing during a full moon? We've all stood outside at night and marveled at the moon's radiant beauty, but how does it affect our view of the stars? Let me share with you some of my insights, hope you find them useful!

Full Moon Stargazing

Does a Full Moon Affect Stargazing?

As a seasoned stargazer, I can confidently state that the phase of the moon indeed has a significant effect on your stargazing experience, particularly when the moon is full. It's important to understand the reasons behind this and what we can do to optimize our star gazing under these conditions. Here's why:

  • Moon's Brightness: The full moon is incredibly bright, illuminating the night sky to such an extent that it often outshines fainter stars and celestial bodies. This means that during a full moon, only the brightest stars, planets, and constellations will be visible.

  • Sky Glow: When the moon is full, it casts a glow across the entire sky, washing out some of the subtle contrasts that allow us to see distant galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae. This glow is sometimes called "moon glare" and it reduces the overall number of objects we can spot in the sky.

  • Impact on Dark Adaptation: The brightness of a full moon also affects our eyes' dark adaptation, which is crucial for stargazing. Dark adaptation is the process by which our eyes adjust to darkness, enabling us to see faint objects in the night sky. It takes around 20 minutes for our eyes to fully adapt to the darkness. However, the strong light from a full moon can interrupt this process, making it harder to spot those elusive celestial bodies.

  • Affects on Astrophotography: If you're into astrophotography, a full moon can make capturing clear images of stars and galaxies a bit of a challenge. The bright moonlight can wash out your images, leaving them overexposed or lacking the deep-space detail you'd see on a moonless night.

  • Viewing Planets: On the plus side, bright planets like Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn remain visible even during a full moon. In fact, the light from a full moon can sometimes improve your view of these planets, as it illuminates their atmospheres and helps them stand out against the dark sky. So, while a full moon might be a beautiful sight to behold and excellent for moon-gazing, it does present some challenges for stargazers. Understanding these challenges and planning your stargazing nights around the lunar cycle can significantly improve your celestial observations.

Moon, Full, Mystical image.

Can We Stargaze During a Full Moon?

Yes, it is possible to stargaze during a full moon, but the catch is that you'll mostly be limited to the brighter celestial bodies. These include some of the planets, a few constellations, and of course, the moon itself.

Is it Worth Stargazing During a Full Moon?

Deciding whether or not to stargaze during a full moon comes down to understanding its impact and making a choice that suits you best. Given the choice, a moonless night would be ideal, but that doesn't mean you should totally rule out stargazing during a full moon.

Astronomy, Moon, Cosmos image

Is it Better to Stargaze on a Full Moon or New Moon?

When comparing a full moon and a new moon night for stargazing, the new moon takes the win. The reason is simple - the absence of moonlight allows for a darker sky, which in turn reveals many more celestial bodies. The darker it is, the more we can see in the sky.

Is a Half Moon Good for Stargazing?

A half moon, or a first or third quarter moon, can provide a reasonably good night for stargazing. Though it's not as ideal as a new moon night, the light pollution from a half moon is significantly less than a full moon, allowing more stars and other celestial objects to be visible.

Half moon, Craters, Dark image.

What is Moon Gazing?

Moon gazing is the act of observing the moon, often through a telescope, binoculars, or even with the naked eye. It's a popular pastime for many astronomy enthusiasts due to the moon's relative proximity to Earth and the fascinating features that can be observed, like lunar craters, seas, and valleys. Moon gazing can also refer to a meditative practice where one gazes at the moon for relaxation and introspection.

What Time of Night is Best for Stargazing?

The best time for stargazing is typically late in the evening to the very early hours of the morning, after twilight has fully ended and the sky is at its darkest. The precise time can depend on the season and your geographical location. It's also important to consider the moon phase. As we've discussed, a new moon night will offer the darkest skies for stargazing.

Does Moonlight Affect Stars?

Yes, moonlight can significantly affect our ability to see stars. Bright moonlight washes out the fainter stars and can lessen the contrast of the night sky. This makes it harder to observe dimmer celestial bodies and deep-sky objects like galaxies and nebulae. However, bright stars, several planets, and certain constellations remain visible even under moonlit skies.

How Does Full Moon Light Impact Our Vision?

Our eyes adjust to the surrounding darkness by dilating our pupils to let in more light. This allows us to see fainter objects in the night sky. However, the light from a full moon can hinder this process, and your eyes may not open wide enough to see the fainter celestial bodies.

 Moon, Astronomy, Night image

What Can We Still See During a Full Moon?

Despite the challenges presented by a full moon, believe me there's still plenty to see in the night sky. The key is to focus on brighter objects that can outshine the moon's glare. Here are some celestial objects and phenomena that can still be enjoyed during a full moon:

  • Bright Planets: Some planets shine brightly enough to be seen even during a full moon. Venus, known as the evening star, is often visible just after sunset, and Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, also stands out. Mars with its reddish hue and Saturn with its distinctive rings are other planets that can often be spotted.

  • Certain Constellations: Several constellations can still be seen during a full moon, although they may appear somewhat fainter. These include Orion, easily identified by its belt of three aligned stars; Cassiopeia, recognized by its distinctive 'W' shape; and Pegasus, known for its large square of stars, often referred to as the 'Great Square.'

  • The Moon Itself: During a full moon, the lunar surface is fully illuminated, making it an excellent time to observe its features. With binoculars or a small telescope, you can see various lunar features in detail, such as the moon's craters, mountains, and seas (large flat areas known as 'mare').

  • Bright Stars and Star Clusters: Bright stars like Sirius, Vega, and Betelgeuse are usually visible even during a full moon. Star clusters, which are groups of stars close to each other in space, can also be spotted. The Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, is a good example of a star cluster that's visible during a full moon.

  • Meteor Showers: If you're lucky enough to have a meteor shower occurring during a full moon, you can still see some meteors. The brightest ones will be visible despite the moon's glare.

  • Satellites and the International Space Station: Artificial satellites and the International Space Station (ISS) are often bright enough to be seen during a full moon. They appear as steadily moving points of light across the sky.

So, while a full moon does limit the number of celestial objects you can see, it doesn't mean you should pack up your telescope. With a bit of patience and knowing where to look, there's still a universe of sights to enjoy.

What Determines a Good Stargazing Experience?

The clarity of your stargazing is dependent on three factors – the level of light pollution, the presence of clouds, and whether or not it's a full moon night. We're assuming an average level of light pollution and a clear, cloudless night for this discussion.

Moon, Half, Nightsky image

Should We Stargaze During a Full Moon?

I want to sum it up for us: while a moonless night is ideal for stargazing, don't let a full moon discourage you. Although you may need to manage your expectations and perhaps use a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, there are still plenty of celestial bodies to observe. Remember my dear community and friends, every night sky, be it a full moon or a new moon, holds its own unique beauty and charm.

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