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Science Be Crazy : Understanding The Moon Cycle

February 4, 2022    7 min read

Every month Earth's moon goes through its phases, waning and waxing in its constant transformation from new moon to full moon and back again.

This lunar cycle happens in part because the moon does not produce its own light; the silvery glow we see comes from sunlight reflecting off the moon's monochrome surface. In addition, our view of the moon is governed by a gravitational quirk called tidal locking. In essence, it takes roughly the same amount of time for the moon to spin once on its axis as it takes for our celestial companion to complete an orbit around Earth. That means the same side of the moon always faces Earth, although both sides get illuminated as the moon orbits, so there is no perpetual dark side of the moon.

Source: Science Learning Hub

Like the moon, Earth, and the sun go through their orbital dance, the part of the moon that's illuminated by sunlight moves in and out of our view, creating a predictable series of lunar phases. In any given month we see eight distinct phases of the moon, defined by how much of the lunar disk is illuminated from our perspective and whether the moon is heading toward or away from being full.

Let's first start by closely knowing all the different first phases of the Moon.

The New Moon

Source: Timeanddate.com

This is the start of the moon’s cycle. During this phase, the moon is dark and appears to be missing from the sky.

The New moon has quiet, instinctual energy. During this phase, listen to your hunches. Subtle realizations will often bubble up to the surface during this time. The new moon energy facilities creative thinking, brainstorming, and creation. Take some time to yourself to be alone. Dream, meditate and plan. This is the time to commit to an intention or project for the moon cycle.

Source: Timeanddate.com

Waxing Crescent Moon

The moment a thin sliver of the Moon becomes visible after the New Moon is the beginning of the first intermediate phase, the Waxing Crescent Moon.

Source: Orion Telescope

The rest of the Moon is also sometimes faintly visible during most of this phase because Earth also reflects sunlight onto the Moon. This phenomenon is called earthshine or Da Vinci glow, and it is most noticeable in April and May.

First Quarter Moon

Source: Almanac.com

It is the second primary Moon phase and it is defined as the moment the Moon has reached the first quarter of its orbit around Earth, hence the name. It is also called Half Moon as we can see exactly 50% of the Moon's surface illuminated. Whether you see the left or right half-illuminated, depends on several factors, including your location.

Waxing Gibbous Moon

Source: timeanddate

The second intermediate phase, the Waxing Gibbous Moon, lasts until the next primary phase. Waxing means that it is getting bigger. Gibbous refers to the shape, which is larger than the semicircle shape of the Moon at First Quarter, but smaller than a full circle.

Full Moon

Source: Wikipedia

The Full Moon appears in the night sky when the Sun and the Moon are aligned on opposite sides of Earth.

Technically, this alignment only lasts a moment. However, the Moon can appear to be full a day before or after while more than 98% of the Moon's disc is illuminated.

When a Full Moon occasionally passes through Earth's shadow, it will cause a lunar eclipse.

When the Full Moon comes close to the points of its orbit that are closest or farthest away from Earth, we call it a Supermoon or Micromoon, respectively.

Waning Gibbous Moon

Source: Earthsky

The next intermediate Moon phase is the Waning Gibbous Moon. The portion of the visible half of the Moon illuminated decreases during this period.

Waning Crescent Moon

Source: nineplanets.org

The Sun illuminates less than half of the visible part of the Moon during the Waning Crescent Moon phase and you can sometimes see earthshine on the rest of the Moon towards the end.

Do the facts and theories about the Moon fascinate you? How about understanding the Moon as closely as you can? If yes, then stay tuned with our series. With Practically learning app, you can experience the Moon, Earth, and the Solar System through our lifelike 3D videos, AR experiences, and simulations. Head to the Practically app and become a part of experiential learning.

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