Our moon has 8 phases to its lunar cycle: New moon, Waxing Crescent, First Quarter, Waxing Gibbous, Full moon, Waning Gibbous, Third Quarter, and finally Waxing Crescent. The moon has phases the wanes, waxes, and even sometimes we can’t even see the moon during its phase. To learn all about the moon and its 8 phases, check out this guide.
By refocusing our space program on Mars for America’s future, we can restore the sense of wonder and adventure in space exploration that we knew in the summer of 1969. We won the moon race; now it’s time for us to live and work on Mars, first on its moons and then on its surface. – Buzz Aldrin
The 8 Phases of the Moon
Before we delve too deep into the 8 phases of the moon it is important to define some crucial terms.
The definition of a waxing moon, according to Dictionary.com (found here) is:
- Think of it as waxing= getting larger in size or growing
The definition of a waning moon, as defined by Dictionary.com (found here) is:
- Think of it as waning= decreasing in size, or getting smaller
Now that we have the definitions covered, let’s move onto the 8 phases of the lunar cycle.
The 8 Phases
The 8 phases (in order) are:
- New moon
- Waxing Crescent
- First Quarter
- Waxing Gibbous
- Full moon
- Waning Gibbous
- Third Quarter
- Waxing Crescent
1. New Moon
This is the beginning portion of the moon’s phases. A new moon happens when the moon is located between the sun and the Earth. We typically cannot see a new moon since the dark side of the moon is facing the Earth.
New moons can create a solar eclipse where the moon blocks the sun’s rays and creates a shadow on parts of the Earth.
2. Waxing Crescent
During the Waxing Crescent phase, the moon travels east in the sky. The waxing crescent phase of the moon begins once we can see a tiny sliver of the moon after a new moon. There are times when you might be able to see the rest of the moon as well, even if it is dark because of a phenomenon called “earthshine” in which the Earth reflects sunlight to the moon.
This phase occurs a few days after a new moon.
3. First Quarter
The next phase of the lunar cycle is the first quarter. During this phase happens when you can see half of the moon that is illuminated. The name “first quarter” comes from the fact that at this stage the lunar cycle is 1/4 of the way completed. Not everyone will see the same halves of the moon lit up during this phase, primarily because it depends on your location. So, some people may see the right half illuminated while others might see the left half illuminated.
4. Waxing Gibbous Moon
This phase essentially covers the time between the first quarter phase and the full moon phase. the words waxing gibbous describe what the phase is pretty well. Waxing means growing larger, and the word gibbous refers to the shape, so waxing gibbous essentially means “growing shape”. The moon will get more and more illuminated until the moon is fully illuminated, which starts the next phase.
5. Full Moon
As you probably already know, a full moon is when the entire moon face is completely illuminated by the sun. Full moons occur when the sun and moon are on opposite sides of Earth. Technically the moon is only 100% illuminated by the sun for a few moments, but this phase also covers when the moon looks full but isn’t.
When the moon is at its closest point to the Earth in its orbit it is called a supermoon, and at its farthest point, it is called a micro-moon. Another cool thing that occasionally happens during a full moon is when the moon passes through our Earth’s shadow, called a lunar eclipse. During a lunar eclipse, the moon will be a reddish color, like the picture above shows.
6. Waning Gibbous Moon
Like we covered above, waxing means increasing and waning means decreasing. So, in this case, the waning gibbous moon means that the shape is decreasing. The waning gibbous phase lasts until the moon is half illuminated.
7. Third Quarter Moon
This phase is basically the exact opposite of the first quarter moon. This is when the moon is half lit up in the sky, and it also signals when the lunar phase is 3/4 of the way completed.
8. Waning Crescent Moon
This is the final stage of the lunar cycle. This phase starts when the sun illuminates less than half of the moon and continues on until the New Moon phase. During this phase, we can also see the effect of “Earthshine”, just like we can during the new moon phase.
This phase “ends” when the moon and the sun rise at the same time, which starts the lunar cycle over again starting with the new moon.
Lunar Cycle Calendar
To check and see what phase we are in, you can Google “Lunar cycle calendar” and will find lots of websites dedicated to it. I personally like this calendar (found here) because it is specific to location and lets you learn a little bit more by giving time and when a certain event will occur.
Interesting Lunar Facts
- We only see one side of the moon because the moon rotates on its axis at the same time the Earth does
- Our tides are based on the lunar cycle
- 12 people have walked on the moon, and they are all American
- We have no idea how the moon actually formed, and it has been theorized that the moon and the Earth at some point billions of years ago collided
- It is believed that the moon has a similar mantle that Earth has, but scientists are unsure about the mantle and core of the moon
- At one point the moon had volcanoes
- After the USSR sent a spacecraft to the moon in the 50’s the USA was close to blowing up a nuke on the moon to show dominance and superiority (luckily cooler heads prevailed on that decision)
- NASA is planning to send astronauts back to the moon in the near future, and setting a lunar base up may also be in the works