First thing a Moon observer wants to know is the current phase of the Moon, so when you launch the application you are offered to set your location and get an “as is right now” 3D image representation of the Moon. That 3D part means that you need to have OpenGL support on your system with proprietary graphics card drivers being the proposed choice.
Wherever you click, there is a place/point of interest that will provide more information on the corresponding tab on the right. This information includes size and position details, a quick description, observation related info like the minimum required instrument and even details about the origin of the name.
The buttons on the top allow the user to flip the view in order to get the same image you’d get from your telescope (in case you are not using an image rectifier), ignore the phase and show the whole moon, go 3D with Moon being rotatable, show/hide names and grid and more…
The dark side of the Moon is actually almost completely dark currently, but I chose to set the phase to off, to get the whole picture :)
Among the many other things that you can do with VMA is the measuring of your telescope’s magnification when using various different eyepieces. Unfortunately, there isn’t anything like the fantastic ocular plugin found on Stellarium, but still this is quite useful.
Before you figure out what of your eyepieces are suitable for Moon observation though, you should set your location targets according to the current phase. Locations along the terminator are of the highest interest, as these locations are less gleamy and thus more “anaglyphic”, whereas locations away from the terminator are very shiny creating a more flat picture result.
For this reason, VMA offers automatic location filtering showing locations of great or exceptional interest near the terminator and according to your telescope objective lens diameter. I chose the diameter of a small 70mm telescope and VMA offered 9 places of exceptional interest for today’s observation!
If you are using binoculars, you can put here the second of the two numbers printed on them. For example 5×30 means that your objective lens is 30mm and 10×50 is 50mm. The first number indicates the magnification.
One other thing that is of great usefulness for observers is the ability to print the map that you see either it is mirrored or using airbrush textures for better contrast etc.
The database can also be a happy place full of interesting information for people who want to dig in and find what they are looking for…
Whether you are a casual observer, amateur astronomer or just curious, you owe to give Virtual Moon Atlas a try and learn many new things about the distant locations found on the surface of the Moon. Certainly one of the best open source tools for the amateur astronomer!