According to NASA, the Moon travels a distance of 382,400 kilometers as it orbits around the Earth during its 29.53 day lunar cycle. Throughout its travels, the Moon waxes and wanes and even becomes invisible to us for a short period. Eight separate phases are recognized during the lunar cycle, and each of them can be enjoyed from the comfort of your own front porch.
When the Moon is between the Earth and the Sun the side that is being lit is facing the Sun. We see its dark side, which means we are unable to see (or can barely detect) the Moon in the night sky. This is called the "new moon cycle" and is considered the beginning of the Moon's phases.
Waxing Crescent Moon
The Moon travels eastward in the sky, and a few days after the new moon we can see a slight edge, or crescent, of the Moon lit by the Sun. The common term for this phase is "waxing crescent." Waxing means it is growing larger or fuller.
First Quarter Moon
The first quarter moon is the term used to describe a waxing moon that is exactly half-lit. The Moon is now one fourth of the way through its lunar cycle.
Waxing Gibbous Moon
When a larger portion of the moon becomes illuminated, it is called a "gibbous moon."
At the full moon, the Moon's face is completely bright and we see an entire circle in the sky. During this part of the cycle, the full moon rises at almost the very same time the sun is setting.
Waning Gibbous Moon
The light on the Moon begins to wane, or grow thinner, and we once again see the gibbous-shaped moon. In this case, it is referred to as a "waning gibbous."
Third Quarter Moon
The third quarter moon phase is when the Moon is once again half-lit. However, this time the left side of the Moon is illuminated instead of the right as it was at first quarter. The moon is now three fourths of the way through its cycle.
The last phase of the lunar cycle is the waning crescent. The Moon appears as a sliver in the sky before it becomes dark again.