On Saturday, the world is invited to celebrate the first annual International Observe the Moon Night. And all you have to do to take part is look up.
"One of the primary goals of the night is just to get people exposed to what's happening at the moon," Noah Petro, a lunar scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., and an associate project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) mission, told SPACE.com. "We want to get people talking about current U.S. and international missions, why the moon is important and what we do and don't know about the moon."
International Observe the Moon Night was born out of two previous NASA celebrations designed to stimulate interest and enthusiasm about our nearest neighbor in the sky. [Gallery: Full Moon Fever]
To commemorate LRO's successful journey to orbit the moon last year, Goddard's education and outreach team hosted an event called "We're at the Moon!" in August 2009. The event coincided with "National Observe the Moon Night," hosted at NASA's Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.
"The goal of both of these events was similar: engage the local public and amateur astronomer communities in an event to raise awareness of NASA's involvement in lunar research and exploration," said Doris Daou, director of communications and outreach at the NASA Lunar Science Institute in Moffett Field, Calif. "The events were so successful we've decided to do it again — only better and much, much bigger."
This year, there will be 278 moon-watching events in more than 40 countries, including China, Germany and Egypt. Several NASA centers, such as Goddard, Ames and Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will be hosting public events.
"I feel like we all take the moon for granted, so this is an opportunity for everyone to learn a little bit about our neighbor," Petro said. "There are a lot of people who are curious about the moon but don't have their own high-powered telescopes or don't know much about the LRO mission. This will help people understand why it's important to have a mission there and what we're learning from it."
Petro's own passion for the moon is much more personal — his father was an engineer who worked on the Apollo missions, so Petro's own work is "keeping with the family business."
As a scientist, Petro sees the moon as a valuable science target, where features like the impact craters that dot the lunar surface act as an archive of cosmic events.
"I think of the moon as the Earth's attic," Petro explained. "The moon has recorded the entire history of events of our solar system. By studying the moon, we get this window into the ancient path of Earth's own history." The event is also an opportunity to celebrate the progress that has already been made in lunar science and exploration, and to reflect on the profound connection between our planet and its satellite, scientists said.
"You look at the pictures coming back, and they're amazingly beautiful," Petro said. "It looks so alien and so foreign to us, but humans have been there — humans have walked around on that surface."
To see if there is an International Observe the Moon Night event near you, visit the Observe the Moon site.