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ASTRO 101

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Phases of the Moon

The side of the Moon facing the Sun is always illuminated. As it orbits the Earth we see varying combinations of the lighted and the dark parts of the surface. A specific configuration of dark and illumination is known as the Moon's phase.
New phase occurs when the Sun and Moon are on the same side of the Earth and we see only the dark side. On that day the Sun and Moon rise and set approximately together. The new moon is visible all day long.


Waxing Crescent phase occurs when the western edge of the Moon is lit but most of the surface visible from Earth is dark. The amount of illumination visible is growing from day to day during this phase which is what is meant by "waxing."


First Quarter phase occurs when the western half of the Moon is illuminated so that it looks like the letter "D". On that day the Moon rises at noon and sets at midnight.


Waxing Gibbous phase occurs when the Moon is mostly lit and the illuminated portion is egg-shaped (gibbous) with the eastern edge shaded. The amount of illuminated area visible is increasing from one day to the next which is what is meant by "waxing".


Full phase occurs when the Moon is on the opposite side of the Earth from the Sun and we see only the illuminated side. On that day it rises as the Sun is setting and sets and the Sun is rising. It is visible all night long.


Waning Gibbous phase occurs when the Moon is mostly lit and the illuminated portion is egg-shaped (gibbous) with the western edge shaded. The amount of illuminated area visible is decreasing from one day to the next which is what is meant by "waning".


Third Quarter phase occurs when the eastern half of the Moon is illuminated. On that day it rises at midnight and sets at noon.


Waning Crescent phase occurs when the eastern edge of the Moon is lit but most of the visible surface is dark. The amount of illumination is decreasing from day to day which is what is meant by "waning." During this time the illuminated portion of the Moon looks like the letter "C".


Names of the Moons

Many American Indian tribes gave names to each of the full moons to keep track of the passing year. The names are associated with the entire month until the next full moon occurs. The ones most commonly adpoted by colonial American settlers where those used by the Algonquin tribes, who lived in the region from New England to Lake Superior. Other Europeans settlers developed their own names.

Since a lunar month averages only 29 days, the dates of the full Moons changes from year to year, but here are some of the traditional titles.

Month Colonial Medieval Pagan Others
American Indian moon names by tribe. Indian Moons
January Wolf Old Ice After Yule
February Hunger Storm Snow  
March Worm Chaste Death Crow
April Pink Seed Awakening Grass
May Flower Hare Grass Planting
June Rose Dyan Planting Strawberry
July Buck Mead Rose Hay
August Sturgeon Grain Lightening Corn
September Harvest Barley Harvest Fruit
October Hunter's Blood Blood  
November Beaver Snow Tree Frosty
December Cold Oak Witch's Before Yule