Early Moon Observations with Telescopes
The Italian astronomer and physicist Galileo wrote the first scientific description of the moon based on observations with a telescope. In 1609, Galileo described a rough, mountainous surface. This description was quite different from what was commonly believed — that the moon was smooth. Galileo noted that the light regions were rough and hilly and the dark regions were smoother plains.
The presence of high mountains on the moon fascinated Galileo. His detailed description of a large crater in the central highlands — probably Albategnius — began 350 years of controversy and debate about the origin of the “holes” on the moon.
Other astronomers of the 1600’s mapped and cataloged every surface feature they could see. Increasingly powerful telescopes led to more detailed records. In 1645, the Dutch engineer and astronomer Michael Florent van Langren, also known as Langrenus, published a map that gave names to the surface features of the moon, mostly its craters. A map drawn by the Bohemian-born Italian astronomer Anton M. S. de Rheita in 1645 correctly depicted the bright ray systems of the craters Tycho and Copernicus. Another effort, by the Polish astronomer Johannes Hevelius in 1647, included the moon’s libration zones.
By 1651, two Jesuit scholars from Italy, the astronomer Giovanni Battista Riccioli and the mathematician and physicist Francesco M. Grimaldi, had completed a map of the moon. That map established the naming system for lunar features that is still in use.