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.
TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)
The phases of the moon include, starting with the new moon, three waxing phases, the full moon and three waning phases.
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.
After the new moon, portion of Earth's satellite that is illuminate by sunlight grows steadily. This is the waxing portion of the cycle, and it continues unto the moon is full. During the waxing phase, the moon is visible in the sky after sunrise and before sunset.
Waxing Crescent -- The moon travels eastward in the sky, and a few days after the new moon we can see a slight edge, or crescent, lit by the sun.
First Quarter -- 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 --After the first quarter, more of the disk is illuminated than is dark. The illuminated portion continues to grow until the moon is full.
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. When the moon is exactly full, it rises at the very moment that the sun sets in the western sky.
After the full moon, the illuminated portion of the moon's face gets smaller night by night until the next new moon and the return of the cycle to its starting point.
Waning Gibbous -- The illuminated portion of the moon is larger than the darkened portion, but night after night, the illuminated portion gets smaller.
Third Quarter -- During this phase, the moon is once again half-lit. However, this time its left side is illuminated instead of the right as it was at first quarter. The moon is now three fourths of the way through its cycle.
Waning Crescent -- The moon appears as a sliver in the sky just before sunrise. Eventually, the moon and sun will rise at the same time, which is the next new moon.
About the Author
Jo Burns has been a freelance writer since 1980. She specializes in articles relating to home and garden, alternative health care, travel, writing and crafting. In 2007, Burns received an M.F.A. in creative writing.
the moon image by Craig Hanson from Fotolia.com