The marvelous moon casts its soft light in the Ohio sky year-round, as it has done for billions of years. Fall is a great time to start watching the sky every night to see how the marvelous moon changes during the month. Much remains to be learned about the moon, but so far, the facts are amazing!
The moon is Earth’s natural satellite. It revolves around the earth in an orbit, just as the Earth revolves around the sun. The moon does not give off its own light like the sun and other stars, but it reflects the sun’s light. The moon looks like a flat disk to us, but it is actually a sphere.
It takes about one month - 28 days, to be exact - for the moon to make one cycle around the Earth. During that time, the moon appears to change its shape when we look at it from earth. The moon doesn’t really change, but we see more or less of moon’s surface lit up by the sun’s reflection.
Phases of the Moon
The shape or phase, of the moon that we see here on Earth depends on where the moon is as it moves along its orbit around the earth.
The first phase of the moon is called new moon. During this phase the moon is closest to the sun, but we can’t see it, because there is no reflected sunlight on the side of the moon that faces Earth.
In a few days, a small sliver of reflected light, called a crescent moon, becomes visible.
About a week later, we can see half of the moon in the first quarter phase. As the moon appears to be growing larger, it is called a waxing moon.
In a few more days, most of the moon’s face is lit up. This phase is known as the waxing gibbous moon.
Half way through the orbit (about two weeks after the new moon), the moon is farthest away from the sun. The sun’s light shines on the entire face of the moon, and the moon appears to be a perfect circle. This is the full moon.
Over the next two weeks, the moon appears to grow smaller and smaller. The waning moon phases go in reverse order – from full moon to waning gibbous, last quarter, and waning crescent.
The moon continues waning until it is in the new moon phase again, and the entire phase cycle is repeated.
See the photo below showing the phases of the moon.
Although the moon looks beautiful from a distance, it would not be a pleasant place to live. The temperature on the moon gets as hot as 300 degrees F during the 2-week daytime when it is closest to the sun, and a freezing -270 degrees F during the 2-week night when it is farthest from the sun. The moon has no water and almost no atmosphere, and therefore has no weather to change its surface. The surface of the moon is very rough and covered with craters from crashing meteors. When you look closely at the full moon, you can see dark and light patches. If you look at these areas through binoculars or a telescope, you can see the bumps and ridges of craters.
Native Americans gave names to the full moon during each lunar cycle. The harvest moon is the traditional name for the full moon nearest to the autumnal equinox - the day that the season officially changes from summer to fall. Farmers still use the extra hours of light during the harvest moon to gather their crops before the first frost. The hunter's moon is the next full moon after the harvest moon, usually falling in October. Some Indian tribes and western European cultures celebrated the feast of the hunter's moon in preparation for winter.
Archaeologists have found evidence that Ice Age hunters studied the moon more than 25,000 years ago. The scientists found reindeer bones and mammoth tusks carved with notches that show the days between the phases of the moon. Many ancient cultures watched to the moon to make calendars to keep track of the weeks, months and years. The ancient Greeks realized that the moon is a sphere 2,500 years ago, as they explained why the moon moves through its phases each month.
In 1969, Neil Armstrong, an astronaut from Ohio, became the first person to walk on the moon and collect moon rocks. Neil Armstrong said it was “one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” By studying the moon rocks, scientists have learned a great deal about what the moon is made of, and how it may have been formed.
We only see the one side of the moon because it rotates just once on its axis in very nearly the same time that it travels once around the earth (about one month).
The moon is about 238,856 miles away from the earth, on average. The diameter of the moon is around 2,160 miles, which is about one-fourth of the earth's diameter.
Since the moon has no weather, the astronauts’ footprints should last at least 10 million years!
The moon has just one-sixth of the gravity earth has, so you weight on the moon would be one-sixth of your weight on Earth. If you weigh 60 pounds on earth, how much would you weigh on the moon? (Answer)
This month, ask for your parents’ permission to go outside after dark and observe the moon from week to week, to see the moon phases for yourself. For an even better view of the moon and the beautiful night sky, plan a fun overnight visit at your local Ohio State Park to see for yourself how marvelous the moon is!
Check the calendar of events for star party nights at Malabar Farm.