Different Types of Moon Phases A Guide for Dummies

A Guide To Types of Moon Phases

This guide simplifies the different types of moon phases. It clarifies the basic science and mythology behind the phases of our lunar partner.

Ou modern culture largely ignores our closest celestial partner.  But we cannot deny the impact this satellite has on our planet.  It affects the tides of the ocean.  It provides indirect light at night and several methods for measuring time.

Moon Phases A Practical Guide

What causes these different phases or cycles? We can see our lunar partner because it reflects sunlight.  Sometimes we only see a partial reflection because the Earth gets in the way.  So, the Sun, Moon, and Earth are involved in the cosmic dance we observe as the changing phases of our lunar satellite.  See, that’s easy.
Our lunar satellite orbits the Earth roughly every twenty-eight days.  This depends on how and what you measure.  For instance, if you measure the cycle on when it returns to the same point in the celestial landscape of stars, they call this a Sidereal Month.  Ancient cultures of the middle east, India, and china used this method. They fixed our lunar satellite with specific stars or constellations.  This way, they knew they had completed one full cycle.  This cycle would take between 27 and 28 days to complete.

Calculating the Types of Moon Phases

But, there are several ways to measure these phases.  Here is a list of the most used methods for a monthly cycle.  The methods for calculating these cycles are not for dummies.  It’s easy to get lost in the intricate math, geometry, and astronomy.  But, if you are curious, here they are.
    • Draconic = 27.212220815 days
    • Tropical = 27.321582252 days
    • Sidereal = 27.321661554 day
    • Anomalistic = 27.554549886 days
    • Synodic = 29.530588861 days
The bottom line here is, no matter how you measure them, there are roughly 28 days in the lunar cycle.
This means there are approximately 28 different types of moon phasesHowever, the change from one to the next is hard to see with the naked eye.  Ancient cultures measured this precision at the most obvious points. They didn’t have telescopes. This restricted what they could see.  They didn’t have access to the magnification of telescopes.
The full moon and the new moon are the easiest points to recognize.  When it is full, you see it as a round orb in the sky.  When it is new, you don’t see it at all.  Not sure why they call it a new moon when it really is “no moon”.
From the full moon, when it gets smaller, we know this as “waning”.  It takes 14 days for it to disappear completely.  This is the point of the new moon.  Some consider the full moon as part of this waning cycle.  But some see it as the completion of the waxing circles.  Waxing means to increase.  And there are approximately 14 days in this cycle as well.  When it is partially visible, either waxing or waning, they call this being “gibbous.”  This means less than a full circle is visible.
Okay, so here something else to consider about waxing and waning.  In the Southern Hemisphere, a waxing moon that goes from new moon to full moon goes from left to right.  It is the opposite in the Northern Hemisphere.  Here it increases from right to left.  No need to get worried. There won’t be a test on any of this.

Organizing the Different Types of Moon Phases

We can divide these phases in several ways.  We start with the simplest and keep dividing.
One complete cycle. The simplest way is to count 28 days from the full moon.  This gives you one cycle.
Next, count 14 days from the full moon.  This helps you calculate the new moon. Then add 14 more and you return to the bright moonlit night. This gives you two divisions.
The next grouping divides the precession into four primary cycles (1).
1) Waxing Crescent
2) Waxing Gibbous
3) Waning Gibbous
4) Waning Crescent
Add the full moon to the above for five.
The next popular is to divide by each cycle by quarters.  This gives us eight partitions.
1) Start with the new moon at day 1
2) Waxing crescents from 3 to 5 days into the phase
3) First quarter is 7 days into the cycle
4) Waxing gibbous at about 10 days
5) Full moon at approximately 14 or 15 days into the cycle
6) Waning gibbous around day 17
7) Last quarter is about day 21
8) Waning crescents from 23 to 25 days into the cycle
We prefer the cycle that includes two additional vantage points.  It adds a phase called “young“ which is about 30 hours after the new moon.  And then a phase called “old” which is about 30 hours before it disappears.  That gives us 10 phases.
If you are really crazy, you could divide it into 28 phases.  Or simply start counting days either at the new or full moon.

How Can You Use This Information?

    • To stargaze the best time is close to the new moon cycle
    • To see a variety of moths, the best time is around the full moon
    • Create a ritual to honor your ancestors on a specific moon phase

In Conclusion

This discussion isn’t just for dummies.  We can all benefit from learning about the different types of moon phases.  These lunar cycles happen 13 times in a year.  Some people think we should base our calendar on this rather than the signs of the zodiac.
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(1) Wikipedia, Lunar Phase, Phases of the moon.
(2) Joseph Campbell & Joseph Campbell’s book The Hero’s Journey, Wikipedia

4 thoughts on “A Guide To Types of Moon Phases

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