Lunar phase

The lunar phase or phase of the Moon is the shape of the directly sunlit portion of the Moon as viewed from Earth. The lunar phases gradually and cyclically change over the period of a synodic month (about 29.53 days), as the orbital positions of the Moon around Earth and of Earth around the Sun shift.

The Moon's rotation is tidally locked by Earth's gravity; therefore, most of the same lunar side always faces Earth. This near side is variously sunlit, depending on the position of the Moon in its orbit. Thus, the sunlit portion of this face can vary from 0% (at new moon) to 100% (at full moon). The lunar terminator is the boundary between the illuminated and darkened hemispheres.

Each of the four "intermediate" lunar phases (see below) is around 7.4 days, but this varies slightly due to the elliptical shape of the Moon's orbit. Aside from some craters near the lunar poles, such as Shoemaker, all parts of the Moon see around 14.77 days of daylight, followed by 14.77 days of "night". (The side of the Moon facing away from Earth is sometimes called the "dark side of the Moon", although that is a misnomer.)

In Western culture, the four principal phases of the Moon are new moon, first quarter, full moon, and third quarter (also known as last quarter). These are the instances when the Moon's ecliptic longitude and the Sun's ecliptic longitude differ by 0°, 90°, 180°, and 270°, respectively. Each of these phases occur at slightly different times when viewed from different points on Earth. During the intervals between principal phases, the Moon's apparent shape is either crescent or gibbous. These shapes, and the periods when the Moon shows them, are called the intermediate phases and last one-quarter of a synodic month, or 7.38 days, on average. However, their durations vary slightly because the Moon's orbit is rather elliptical, so the satellite's orbital speed is not constant. The descriptor waxing is used for an intermediate phase when the Moon's apparent shape is thickening, from new to full moon, and waning when the shape is thinning.

The eight principal and intermediate phases are given the following names, in sequential order:

Non-Western cultures may use a different number of lunar phases; for example, traditional Hawaiian culture has a total of 30 different phases (one per day).

This page was last edited on 14 June 2018, at 10:55 (UTC).
Reference: under CC BY-SA license.

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