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The phases of the moon and the lunar cycle

There are four phases of the Moon: New Moon, waxing quarter, full Moon and waning quarter. These are the different forms in which we see the Moon as a result of its translational movement around the Earth.

The Moon is the only natural satellite of the Earth, that is to say, it is a celestial body that orbits or rotates around our planet. Despite having no light of its own, the Moon reflects the light it receives from the Sun.

Depending on the position of the Moon in relation to the Sun and the Earth, we can see the different lunar phases:

  • the new moon: it is not visible on Earth, because it is between the Sun and the Earth.
  • The rising quarter: shows an illuminated half of the Moon, which is in the first quarter of its path.
  • the full moon: appears fully illuminated at the point of the lunar orbit farthest from the Sun.
  • The waning quarter: the other half of the moon is illuminated, and it is one room away from completing the lunar cycle.

new moon, waxing quarter, full moon and waning quarter, lunar phases

1. New moon

It is the phase in which the lunar cycle begins, also called new moon. It’s when we can’t see the Moon because the illuminated part is on the opposite side of what we see on Earth.

When the Moon is between the Sun and the Earth, we don’t see it because none of the Sun’s rays that illuminate it are reflected back to us.

As the Moon moves in its orbit away from the Sun, an illuminated part of the Moon known as crescent moon.

The waxing Moon in the Southern Hemisphere waxes from left to right, so it waxes from right to left in the Northern Hemisphere.

2. Growing chamber

It is when we can see half of the Moon illuminated by the Sun. The line connecting the Moon and the Earth forms an angle of 90 degrees with the line connecting the Earth and the Sun. At this point, the Moon has traveled a quarter of its orbit. This phase can be seen between noon and midnight.

After the waxing quarter, as the Moon continues its course, it brightens beyond the middle of the lunar circle, giving it the appearance of a hump or hump. Astronomers call this transition Crescent gibbous moon.

3. Full moon

It is when we see the Moon fully illuminated as a circle of light. At this point, the Moon has traveled half of its orbit and is at the furthest part of it, opposite the Sun.

We can observe this phase between sunset and dawn.

The days following the full Moon it moves towards the Sun, decreasing the portion of the Moon that we can see. He regains the hunchbacked form, but is named after Waning gibbous moon.

4. Diminishing chamber

This is when we see half of the lunar circle illuminated after the full Moon. At this point it has a quarter of the way to complete its orbit. It appears at midnight and hides at noon.

As the Moon approaches the Sun again, the illuminated face we can see is reduced. This is what we know as waning moon.

lunar cycle

The lunar cycle begins when the Moon is not visible from Earth and appears “off” (New Moon). Then it begins to lighten to half (crescent moon). The Moon continues to brighten until it completes the circle (Full Moon). From here the illumination begins to decrease until it reaches half (waning quarter) and continues to decrease until it is no longer visible from Earth. (new moon).

Half of the Moon is always illuminated by the Sun (except when a lunar eclipse occurs). As the Moon orbits the Earth, the line formed by the Earth, Moon, and Sun changes angle. This explains the different phases we observe from Earth.

The Moon makes a complete revolution around the Earth in 27.3 days. However, the period of time that elapses between two equal phases is called a synodic lunar month or lunage and is equal to 29 days, 12 hours and 44 minutes.

diagram of the different phases of the moon and its relationship with the Sun and the Earth
Location of the Moon in relation to the Earth and the Sun in each phase.

You may also be interested in seeing:


Kriner, A. (2004). The phases of the Moon, How and when to teach them? Science & Education 10:11-120

Maran, SP (2013). Astronomy for Dummies. Banshee Digital Publisher.

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