Different Types of Moon Phases A Guide for Dummies

Your Simple Guide To Types of Moon Phases

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

Our modern culture largely ignores our closest celestial partner.  But we cannot deny the impact this lunar satellite has on our planet.  Its gravitational pull affects the tides of the oceans and even lakes to a smaller extent.  It provides indirect light at night and several methods for measuring time.

Types of Moon Phases

The most obvious question to ask is 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. The Sun, Moon, and Earth are in an intricate cosmic dance that gives us the changing phases of our lunar satellite, the moon.  See, that’s easy.

 Our lunar satellite orbits the Earth roughly every twenty-eight days.  This all 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.
Many ancient civilizations used the moon as a basis for a 13-month annual calendar instead of the stars and the zodiac.

Measuring Different Types of Moon Phases

If you look at the orbit of the moon, you can find several ways to measure the different phases of our lunar partner.  Here are the most used methods for a monthly cycle.
These 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 are the primary methods and their results.
    • 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 phasesThe 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.

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 the moon is new, it is invisible to the naked eye.  We’re not sure why they call it a new moon when you can’t see it at all.

From the full moon, when it gets smaller, we know this as “waning”, and so it takes 14 days for our lunar partner to disappear.  This is the point of the new moon.  Some people consider the full moon as part of this waning cycle, and some see it as the completion of the waxing cycle.

Waxing means to increase, there are approximately 14 days in the waxing cycle.  When it is partially visible, either waxing or waning, they call this being “gibbous,” or less than a full circle.

The adjective gibbous is from the Latin noun gibbous, which means hump or humpbacked.  In the 14th Century, the English began using the term to describe something less than a full circle.  How it got from meaning hump or bulging to less than half a circle is a mystery, I guess they just liked the sound of the word.

 Okay, so here something else to consider about waxing and waning.  If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, a waxing moon that goes from the new moon to the full moon goes from left to right.  It is the opposite in the Northern Hemisphere; 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, starting with the simplest and then keep dividing.
The first way is to count one complete cycle. All you need to do is to count 28 days from the full moon.  This gives you one complete cycle.  The hardest part is knowing when it is completely full without a calendar.
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 the two simple 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 you can start counting days either at the new or full moon.

How Can You Use This Information?

    • Use this formation to the most out of stargazing. The best time is close to the new moon.
    • 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

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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 “Your Simple Guide To Types of Moon Phases

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