Understanding Lunar Phases

The moon is part of our solar system and sits a massive 384,400 km away from the earth. Despite this distance it can be seen clearly on most nights, providing there isn’t too much cloud. Apollo missions took around 3 days to reach the moon, which means they were traveling at amazing speeds along the way. The physical appearance of the moon changes during the course of each month. These appearance changes are called lunar phases. In this blog post we will take a closer look at the eight different stages and what they actually mean. The reason we see a different moon shape is that light comes from the sun and depending on the position of the moon we see changes in its illumination.

The New Moon

The new moon occurs when it is the sun, earth and the moon are in approximate alignment. The moon is illuminated on the side that we cannot actually see. It is important to understand that the phenomenon of a solar eclipse only ever occurs during this new moon stage.

The Waxing Crescent Moon

When you see the moon as a crescent shape it is referred to as a waxing crescent. Usually this is only seen in the west and the crescent grows in size as each day goes by.

The First Quarter Moon

The first quarter is very often called the half-moon stage. This occurs approximately 7 days after the new moon and as you might expect only half of the moon is lit and is visible from earth.

The Waxing Gibbous Moon

The waxing gibbous moon is visible once over half of the moon is visible. The lit portion of the shape that can be seen from earth increases with every day that passes. You can witness this stage of the moon between the first quarter and full moon stages.

The Full Moon

Similar to the approximate alignment of a new moon, the full moon is on the opposite side of the earth. This time the entire sunlit moon is facing the earth and we are able to see the moon in its fullest form. The shadow portion of the moon remains entirely hidden from the view offered from the earth.

The Waning Gibbous Moon

Directly after the full moon, the moon will start to enter the waning gibbous stage. More than half of the lit moon can be seen, but each day that passes the view lessens, or wains.

The Last Quarter Moon

At this stage, half of the lit moon can be seen from the earth. Again, this stage is often referred to the half-moon, similar to the first quarter, but the opposite side of the moon is the part that can be seen.

The Waning Crescent Moon

Again, the moon takes on the presence of a crescent shape, similar to the waxing crescent moon; however, the crescent shape diminishes over each day that passes. This stage continues until the moon reaches the new-moon stage.