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Ultimate Guide to Understanding the Moon

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The mysterious nature of the “luna” has been fascinating humans for thousands of years. It has both astrological and astronomical significance, playing a central role in the myths and stories of this planet both real and imagined. Here is your full guide to understanding the Moon.

Table of Contents

  1. What is the Moon
  2. The Moon’s Story
  3. The Moon Today
  4. The Phases of the Moon
  5. Types of Moons
  6. Moon FAQ

What is the Moon

The Moon is an astronomical body that orbits the planet Earth. Its formation is obscure but several theories exist. The leading theory, NASA explains, is that the Moon formed from the left over debris following a collision of a planetoid body, roughly the size of Mars, with early Earth 4.5 billion years ago.

A new model was proposed in 2018 by researchers at the University of California, Davis, and Harvard University published in the February 28 Journal of Geophysical Research – Planets. This theory also begins with a collision of planetoid bodies but differs in that the collision led to the creation of a vaporous and molten donut shaped cloud called a synestia which would later form into planet Earth. The center of this synestia is where the Moon would have developed. This theory is gaining popularity as it also explains the chemical composition of the Moon more in depth.

The Lunar surface is rocky and pock-marked appearing whitish gray in color. It has an elliptical orbit which means it rotates around the Earth in an oval shape. Subsequently, this leads it to move closer and farther away as it spins around the Earth approximately every 27 days.

The Moon is a natural satellite. This is a celestial body that orbits around another body. According to NASA there are over 150 classified natural satellites in our solar system. The Earth’s Moon, or satellite, is responsible for reflecting light in darkness, affecting the tides of the oceans, and assisting in the tracking of time. 

The Moon’s Story

Throughout history there are examples of human’s tuning into the metaphysical energy of the Moon, creating ceremonies and rituals to honor these cycles. For example, Early Vedic texts from ancient India describe rituals that took place on the New and Full Moon each month.

Translations from the ancient Middle Eastern text, called the Enuma Elish, predicted the activities of the gods based on the astrology of the Sun and Mono. Ulla Koch-Westenholz describes in the paper, Mesopotamian Astrology an Introduction to Babylonian and Assyrian Celestial Divination, how astrological information was interpreted. For example, an ancient Babylonian belief was that if a Full Moon occurred on any day other than the 14th day of the lunation cycle, then this signified the potential to be ravaged by wild beasts (wolves and lions) and invaded by one’s enemies.

Ancient cultures also associated the Luna with fertility, possibly because the length of the Lunar cycle closely matches the average length of a women’s monthly cycle. Nature worship was often a large part of ancient spiritual life and celebration. The ancients typically viewed the planetary bodies as the gods and goddesses they wrote about in myth and legend or depicted in art.

Some notable Lunar deities include the Roman Goddess Luna, Sin the ancient God from Mesopotamian culture, and the Mayan Lunar Goddess. The stories that ancient cultures crafted around these deities demonstrates the close association they had with the lunation cycles.

Esoteric traditions have associated the Luna with the subconscious mind, dreams, and emotions. Furthermore, ancient Astrologers categorized it as a luminary, along with the Sun, because of the light these celestial bodies provided along with their prominent appearance in the sky.

 That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind.

Neil Armstrong

The Moon Today

In addition to being significant in many cultures throughout the ages, Luna has also been significant in human achievement in our world today. The first landing in 1969 added a momentous layer to the human story. This occasion marked the first time a human had been on a celestial body other than Earth. As a result, the lunar landing inspired further space exploration, bringing Earth’s satellite from an object of religious reverence and into scientific study.

As was always the case, the Moon means different things to people. It is revered in some religions, studied by scientists, and can be seen as a beautiful celestial body to a human observer. As explored in the book, The Triumph of the Moon written by Ronald Hutton in 1999, some modern pagan belief systems worship a Goddess in the form of the Moon, tying in the ancient history and mythologies of the lunar deities.

Lastly, in astrology, it is associated with the human psyche and subconscious mind. And, astrologers follow the monthly Lunar transits through the zodiac as a guide post to understanding the day-to-day emotional energy.

What Creates the Lunar Phases

One of the most prominent aspects of the Moon is the Lunar phases. It may not create any light of its own, but it reflects the light of the Sun in varying degrees on its journey each month. 

Approximately every 27 days, the Moon orbits completely around the Earth. Only one side of its surface is ever visible to humans on the planet. This is due to a common effect in the solar system called tidal locking. The gravitational pull that Earth has on the Moon keeps the Moon’s orbit and rotation perfectly in sync. As a result, humans can only ever see one face of its surface.

Over the course of the 27 days, the light reflected increases, called waxing, then decreases in light, called waning. This change in illumination of the Sun’s light on the Lunar surface is what creates the Lunar phases as viewed from Earth.

The Earth, Moon, and Sun do an elegant dance in the night sky. At times the Earth is blocking the light of the Sun from reflecting off of the Lunar surface. Other times, it is only partially blocking the Sun’s light. This lighting effect happens in a predictable pattern which allows humans to view the steady increase and decrease in light each cycle.

Phases of the Moon

Tracking the its phases has aided humanity in a variety of ways. The Farmer’s Almanac publications, for example, provides advice on planting crops and going on fishing expeditions based on the Lunar phases.

Scientists also theorize that animal and human behavior psychologically changes throughout the cycle, subtly affecting our interactions and emotional responses. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin linked amphibian reproductive behavior to the phases of the Moon in a study conducted in 2018.

Following the phases in astrology is very significant in anticipating what the upcoming vibe is going to feel like. This planetoid represents our emotions, inner feelings, intuition, and psychic energy. The energy present in everyday life is thought to correspond with the shifting illumination of the Lunar surface.

Understanding the phases can assist in strengthening intuition by allowing for a tuning in to the subtle and hidden patterns of this planet and the psyche. Here is the meaning behind each phase.

New Moon

The New Moon marks the start of the Lunar cycle; no light is reflected off of the Lunar surface. Astrologically, this phase symbolizes beginnings, fresh starts, and setting intentions. Use this time to brainstorm and come up with ideas. The very dark night sky makes this the best time for stargazing!

Waxing Crescent

During the Waxing Crescent phase, the Lunar surface is increasing in light with a very small faint sliver of light reflecting off of the surface. The astrological meaning of this phase symbolises production, first steps and early successes. Use this time for creating and implementing ideas. 

First Quarter

The First Quarter phase is when half of the Lunar surface is in shadow while the other half is lit up. The energy can be unpredictable and surprising. In astrology, this phase is symbolic of increased pressure, set-backs, and growth. Use this time to re-work things and test out new solutions to old problems. 

Waxing Gibbous

During the Waxing Gibbous phase more than half of the Moon’s surface is illuminated. The energy is increasing as it is nearing the time of the Full Moon. Astrologically this phase is symbolic of building, optimizing, and learning. Use this time to take action and expand understanding. 

Full Moon

During the Full Moon phase the entire Lunar surface is illuminated with the light of the Sun. The Sun and Moon are exactly opposite each other in the sky. Thus, the energy is polarized. In astrology this phase is symbolic of heightened emotions, culmination, and peak experiences. Use this time to practice divination or achieving goals. 

Waning Gibbous

The Waning Gibbous phase marks the start of the Moon’s decrease in light but still more than half of the Lunar surface is lit up. Energy is starting to come down and shift inward. Astrologically this phase symbolizes knowledge gained, application of skills, and seeking success. Use this time to evaluate and analyze. 

Last Quarter

During the Last Quarter phase, the Moon is once again half-lit and half in shadow, just like the First Quarter but this time the light is decreasing instead of gaining. The Last Quarter phase symbolizes transformations, letting go, and shifts in perspective. Use this time to release old habits and behaviors.  

Waning Crescent

The Waning Crescent phase, also called the Balsamic phase, marks the end of the Lunar cycle. Almost no light is being reflected off of the Lunar surface during this phase. The energy is quiet and mysterious. This phase symbolizes completion, endings, and preparation for the next phase of the Lunar cycle. Use this time to tie up loose ends and bring things to a close.

There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.

-Pink Floyd

Types of Moons

The Moon is like a blank canvas in our Universe reflecting the light of other planetary bodies in the galaxy. Particular alignments in the solar system create predictable yet unique events giving us different types of Moons such as; Blood, Super, Blue, and Harvest. These events can inspire awe and wonder in the human observer.

Blood Moon

A Blood Moon can conjure up ideas of the apocalypse, or the ending of the world, and in ancient times these events put everyone on especially high alert. A Blood Moon happens during a total Lunar eclipse. During an eclipse, the Earth passes between the Sun and Moon casting a dark shadow across the Lunar surface. The reddish effect is due to muted light being filtered from the Earth’s atmosphere and being reflected onto the Lunar surface.

Super Moon 

The Lunar orbit is not a perfect circle around the Earth. It is elliptical. This causes the it to move in closer and farther away from the Earth throughout the monthly rotation. When the Full Moon happens on the same day that it is closest to the Earth, this creates a Super Moon. During this time Earth’s satellite can appear gigantic.

Harvest Moon

A Harvest Moon occurs in early autumn during the Full Lunar phase. The origins of this lunar name are from the harvesting that took place well into the night during this season. The brightness of the Full Moon allowed farmers to take advantage of the light in gathering their plentiful yields. This time was a symbol of gratitude and bounty.

Blue Moon

A Blue Moon is when two Full Moons occur twice during a calendar month. There is nothing blue about it! This is a relatively rare event, happening approximately once every 2.5 to 3 years. The saying “once in a blue moon” is referring to something that doesn’t happen very often.

Moon FAQ

Information gathered from NASA

How Was the Moon Formed?

It is not 100% certain how the Moon came to be. The leading theory is that the Moon is left over debris from a collision that occurred between a planetoid body and Earth 4.5 billions of years ago.

How Old is the Moon?

Luna is theorized to be 4.5 billion years old.

How Big is the Moon?

The circumfrance is 6783 miles or 10,917 kilometers around.

How Far is it from the Moon to Earth?

It is 384633 kilometers or 239,000 miles away from Earth.

What is the Moon Made out of?

Cheese – as folklore would tell us! In actuality, Luna is made up of various types of rocks, minerals, and gases.

How Does the Moon Affect the Tides?

The tides are affected by both the Sun, Moon, and gravity as the solar system is composed of push–pull relationships. The tides are a result of the Moon’s pull on the Earth’s waters as it rotates in the night sky.

Why Do We Call the Moon Luna?

The word Luna is of Latin origin and is an alternative name that can be used for the Moon. Spanish and Italian use the word Luna. Luna is also the name of an ancient Roman Goddess.

How Does the Moon Affect Life on Earth?

The presence of the luna slows down the rotation of the Earth and creates the tides of the oceans! It has been suggested by researchers that animal and human behavior may be affected by the lunar phases.

Some studies have concluded that hospital emergency rooms have an increase in activity during a Full Moon. One study, appearing in the Asian Journal of Medicine in June 2010, found psychiatric emergency hospital admissions to increase at the Full Lunar phase. The study also found that aggressive behavior increased at the beginning and end of the lunar cycle.

The 13 Lunar cycles in a year have been tied to many religious holidays, ceremonies and celebrations. The Chinese New Year always falls on the New Lunar phase and the Islamic calendar is also based on the Lunar cycle. In addition, the Jewish calendar starts each month at the New Moon.

The Moon has inspired works of art, spirituality, and even modern day analytical psychology. For instance, Jungian psychological theory uses the metaphor of ‘marrying’ one’s Sun and Moon. This is referring to reconciling the conflicting aspects within oneself for great self-realization. Wiccan belief places the Moon in a central role as a prominent Goddess figure. Artist Vincent Van Gogh created one of his most famous paintings, Starry Night in 1889. A moody Moon is depicted in this work.

Is the Moon a Planet or a Star?

It is a natural satellite orbiting the Earth–it is neither a planet or a star! A satellite is a celestial body that orbits another celestial body. There are various types of satellites. For example, scientists put artificial, or human-made satellites, into space for study. The Earth’s Moon does not fit the criteria to become a planet as it does not independently orbit the Sun.

When Was the Lunar Landing?

The first landing was in 1969 by the US Apollo 11 mission.

How Many People Have Been on the Moon?

24 humans have visited and 12 humans have walked on the surface.

How Long Does it Take to Get to the Moon?

The Apollo missions took around 3 to 4 days to reach the surface. It really depends on the speed and craft being used!

How Big is the Moon Compared to Earth?

The Earth is 3.7 times larger.

Does the Moon Have an Atmosphere?

The Lunar surface has a thin layer of gases called an exosphere but it does not constitute a full atmosphere. You cannot breath on the Lunar surface. Gravity causes the gases to be bound to the planetoid surface but are not thick enough to behave as a regular atmosphere.

How Does the Moon Rotate?

The Moon orbits around the planet Earth and rotates on its own at exactly the same rate that the Earth is spinning – leading to only one side of the Moon ever being visible from the perspective on Earth. This is due to the delicate balance of the gravitational pull between the Earth, it’s satellite, and the Sun.

What is the Temperature of the Moon?

The temperature ranges between -387 degrees Fahrenheit and 253 degrees Fahrenheit or -232.778 degrees Celsius and 122.778 degrees Celsius.

Contributor | Emma Lynn Wilson

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