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Moon, Regulus, and Saturn

February 28, 2010

The full Moon has probably inspired more myths and legends than any other astronomical body. Modern mythology, for example, says that more babies are born at full Moon, or that more crimes are committed, or that more people are admitted to mental hospitals. None of that is true, but who ya' gonna believe -- the facts or a good story?

An older bit of mythology held that the full Moon brought stormy weather. Because of that legend, a prominent lunar feature that comes into view as the Moon waxes toward full was named the Ocean of Storms.

It's in good view tonight, because there's a full Moon. The Ocean of Storms is one of the dark lunar plains. During the early evening hours, it's in the lower left quadrant of the lunar disk.

The Ocean of Storms formed when a giant asteroid slammed into the Moon billions of years ago. The impact formed a wide basin. It also punched a hole in the crust, allowing molten rock to bubble to the surface. Since then, this plain has been pounded by many smaller space rocks, which have formed countless impact craters.

Two Soviet probes touched down in the Ocean of Storms in the 1960s. The American Surveyor 3 lander followed. And in 1969, astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean landed there, too -- just a few hundred feet from the Surveyor.

Watch the Moon throughout the night. It has two bright companions: The star Regulus rises above it, with the planet Saturn about the same distance to its lower left.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009

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