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Our Earth's Satellite, the Moon

Updated on July 11, 2012

Our Moon

Earth's moon is not just a beautiful object in our sky, it is so much more. Here you will learn many things about our moon, and also the answers to questions like:

What is the name of the Moon?

What is a Blue Moon, a Harvest Moon?

Why does the Moon shine?

What are some basic facts about our Moon?

Does Earth have any other moons?

What are the dark spots on Earth's Moon?

What is the Name of the Moon?

Have you ever asked yourself, what is the name of the moon? All the other moons of all the other planets have a name, so what is the Moon's name? Is it Luna? Actually, Luna is the Latin word for Moon. But what is the name of the moon? The Moon. Yep, that's it. The name of the moon is the Moon. Capitalized. Okay, so why is that? Couldn't they think of anything better?

Well, when the Moon was named, it was different. You see, the Moon was the first satellite known to man, so "moon" was not considered a generic name. Think of it this way...we usually call all gelatin "Jello", but it's not all Jello. Jello is just a brand name. What about "Band-aids"? That's also a brand name, since all adhesive bandages are not Band-Aids. Sometimes, a product becomes so popular, that it's name is used to refer to ALL similar products. That's what happened with the Moon. All planetary satellites are called moons, but they are not the Moon!

Is Cruithne Earth's other moon?

3753 Cruithne was discovered by telescope on October 10, 1986, by Duncan Waldron and in 1997 it's orbit was determined by Paul Wiegert, Kimmo Innanen, and Seppo Mikkola. It is an asteroid that was captured by the Sun's gravitational pull and is now in orbit around the Sun.

Cruithne is officially 3753 Cruithne, but for ease we will refer it to just Cruithne. Cruithne has been referred to as another moon of Earth, but it doesn't orbit Earth, but orbits the Sun instead. As you can see from the image to the left, Cruithne's revolution around the Sun is so similar to the Earth's that it appears to follow Earth.

If you think they may be in danger of colliding, you have nothing to worry about. Cruithne is many times farther from the Earth than the Moon, and orbits at a different speed. If you look at Cruithne from the Earth's perspective, it would look like a bean shaped orbit, as in the image to the right.

Cruithne is not the only captured asteriod, there have been several other asteroids recently captured by the Sun's gravitational pull which now also orbits the Sun, none of which poses any threat to our Earth.

The Oceans are Totally Attracted to the Moon.

The tides on Earth are a result of the Moon's gravitational pull. While the Sun also has a gravitational pull, it's strength is less than half that of the Moon. The tides are not caused solely by the Moon's gravity alone, but by the Moon pulling the water towards itself, while the Earth's gravity pulls the tides towards itself.

This constant pulling back and forth helps to create the tides. While the Moon pulls at everything on Earth, the Oceans are especially effected because they are always moving. The Earth experiences higher tides when the Moon and Sun are aligned, these are called Spring Tides, and occur when there is a New Moon and Full Moon. The lower tides occur when the Moon is at it's quarter phases, and is not aligned with the Sun, these are called Neap Tides.

Moon Mysteries Investigated - Part One of the National Geographic Program

Why does the Moon shine? Why does it sometimes look white and sometimes orange or golden? What is a blue moon?

Lets take these questions one at a time, first: Why does the Moon shine?

The Moon doesn't give off it's own light but reflects the light of the Sun. When the Sunlight hits the surface of the Moon, some of the Moon's material reflects the light back. This reflection is called Albedo, which is expressed in percentage. The Albedo of the Moon is 7%.

For example, ice has a high Albedo because it reflects light back into space, and water has a low Albedo because it absorbs the light.

Earthshine occures when the Earth reflects the sunlight onto the Moon. You only see it when the Moon is in it's quarter phase, and the reflection shows the outline of the whole Moon.

Hyperlinked photos courtesy of John Carney and Motti.

The atmosphere causes the Moon to look orange, gold, or slightly red. When the Moon is near our horizon, the light has to go through more atmosphere than it does when it is overhead. By the time the light reaches your eyes, the blue, purple, and green light has been scattered by molecules, so that only the oranges, reds, and yellows get through. If the Moon looks orange or golden when overhead, that is because of increased pollution in the air at that particular time.

Many times, a large orange Moon is called the Harvest Moon. Many farmers are harvesting their crops and stirring up a lot of dust particles that get into the atmosphere in the Autumn. The Moon is also closer to the Earth at this time of year. These two effects combined give you the large orange, or Harvest Moon.

The literal translation of a Blue Moon is also rare. You could say that an actual Blue Moon happens once upon a Blue Moon.

When there is an extreme amount of dust and smoke in the air, the effect is a Blue moon.

A very large forest fire will cause a Blue Moon effect. When the volcano Krakatoa erupted in 1883, there was a Blue Moon that lasted for 2 years!

Another use of the term Blue Moon refers to the fact that every three or four years, the 12 month calender year sees an extra full moon because the lunar cycle and the calender year don't quite match up. Why that is called a Blue Moon isn't entirely known, although it has been referred as such for a long time. (Perhaps the moon is sad at having to show up for an extra term.)

There are hundreds of moons in our solar system, and our Moon is the 5th largest.

The distance from the Earth to the Moon is constantly changing, but according to NASA, the distance from the center of the Earth to the center of the Moon is 238,857 miles (384,403 km).

The Moon has a diameter of 2,159 miles (3,474 km).

The Moon takes 27.3 days to complete one orbit around the Earth, and repeats it's lunar phase every 29.5 days.

It takes 1.225 seconds for light to travel from the Moon to the Earth.

The Moon has a very insignificant atmosphere, so much so that the Moon is usually considered to have no atmosphere, so therefore, there is no "daytime", and no sound. The Sun needs the atmosphere to reflect light back to the Moon's surface, and sound needs air to travel.

The image above right shows the Earth and Moon to scale.

The Moon Totally Rocks

The Moon is tidally locked, meaning the same side of the Moon is always facing the Earth, but we can actually see 59% of the Moon. So how is that possible? It's called libration. The Moon seems to sway, allowing us to see slightly more than the 50% we would see if this didn't happen. Of course, we don't see 59% at once, we see different parts of the Moon at different times, adding up to 59%.

So why does the Moon do this? The moon isn't physically swaying as much as it looks, it just seems to, because of the view we have of it from Earth. The position of the Moon on it's axis, combined with it's rotation, and then the angle from which we see the Moon from Earth, causes it to look like it's swaying. The Moon does actually sway a bit, but never more than 0.04 degrees, this is called Physical Libration.

The dark spots seen on the moon are called Mare, which means "sea" in Latin, because that's what astronomers used to think they were. Maria is the plural form, and I don't mean a girl with a split personality. I mean the lunar maria, which is pronounced differently, you put the emphasis or stress on the first syllable for Mar/i/a and Mar/e.

The lunar maria cover about 16% of the Moon, and most of this coverage is on our side. Nearly 36% of the near side of the Moon is covered by maria. The lunar maria are pools of basaltic lava that flowed into depressions caused by meteors, comets, or asteroids striking the Moon. These solidified lava depressions do not reflect the Sun as much as the Terrae, which are more commonly called the Highlands (and you thought only Scotland had the Highlands). While the mare are associated with an impact basin, Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms) is an exception. This extremely large area of lunar mare doesn't cover a well defined basin like the other maria of the Moon.

Our Moon is literally covered with impact craters, with more than 500,000 of them close to a mile in diameter, or larger. The Moon has been bombarded with so many celestial bodies that it has what is believed to be the second largest crater in the solar system, the South Pole-Aitken basin which is on the far side of the Moon. This basin is seen as the dark spot in the image to the right. Notice how little mare there is on the far side of the Moon as compared to the near side we see at night?

The Moon Hoax theories investigated by the Mythbusters

Was the moon landing a hoax? The Mythbusters tackled the hoax theories in this great episode. To learn more go to their Discovery Channel page!

You may have heard of Google Maps and Google Earth, but have you heard of Google Moon?

Check out Google Moon and get a map of the Moon, Lunar landmarks, and information about the six Apollo missions. This is a great site!

When our full Moon passes through the shadow of Earth and blocks the rays of the Sun, we call it a Lunar Eclipse. These eclipses take place when the moon is full, and when it passes through the umbral shadow of Earth. When it passes through the penumbral shadow, it is still an eclipse, but we don't usually notice it. If you do notice it, you are one ridiculously observant person, or delusional. Sometimes, only part of the Moon is in shadow, so we call that a partial eclipse, when it is totally in shadow, we call that a total eclipse.

The Moon, Earth, and Sun must be closely aligned for an eclipse to occur, and that only happens a few times a year. If the moon didn't orbit at a slight tilt, it would happen more often. The moon travels through the shadow at about 2,300 mph, or one kilometer per second, so a total lunar eclipse can last for an hour or so, depending on how far away it is from the Earth at the time.

If you want to see a horizontal eclipse, known as a Selenehelion Eclipse, the Moon and Sun must be visible at the same time, which means at dusk or dawn. The moon is still visible because the Earth is bouncing the suns rays onto the Moon. This gives the Moon a red color of varying degrees, depending on how much dust is in the atmosphere, but the moon is still traveling through the Earth's shadow, so it is a rather unique eclipse to behold.

Great book for the budding astronomer

Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope - and How to Find Them
Turn Left at Orion: A Hundred Night Sky Objects to See in a Small Telescope - and How to Find Them

It can be daunting when you get your first telescope, and have no idea what to look at. This is especially true for those who live in the suburbs where the street lights interfere. This books is perfect for that reason! It has a list of objects that can be seen with a beginners telescope, and you don't have to drive to the middle of nowhere to see them.


Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome

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    • sierradawn lm profile image

      sierradawn lm 4 years ago

      Amazingly informative and beautiful lens! I am lensrolling it to my lens: "Ancient Moons" Thank you!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      i got all the info i needed !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      There was stuff there that I had no idea about. Thanks for sharing. (I thought blue moon meant two full moons in one month; thanks for expanding my horizons.)

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      thx for info really useful

    • tonybonura profile image

      Tony Bonura 5 years ago from Tickfaw, Louisiana

      Interesting lens. Good information. Liked it a lot.


    • profile image

      travelerme 5 years ago

      your lens is a great lens, I think it does deserve to be my prime squidlike of 1111

    • profile image

      StrongMay 5 years ago

      This is such a great lens. I love the moon. It is fascinating. Do you know how it was formed? A planet the size of Mars crashed into Earth, and the debris thrown into space was pulled together by gravity and created that big sphere in our sky.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Thank you for all this interesting information - it's amazing how much we take the moon for granted yet know very little about it.

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Wonderful lens; love the Moon. Squidlike

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 5 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      interesting lens

    • MillBucks profile image

      MillBucks 5 years ago

      Very informative lens, your featured photos are awesome! Thanks for sharing your stellar knowledge.

    • poldepc lm profile image

      poldepc lm 5 years ago

      squidlike from me...great lens

    • profile image

      dream1983 5 years ago

      Great lens, nice job! Squidlike

    • Rumisglass profile image

      Rumisglass 5 years ago

      Very good lens! I enjoyed the pictures of the phases of the moon

    • MerandaJade profile image

      MerandaJade 5 years ago

      This is a very good presentantion of the moon! I too, have never heard of Cruithne before. That's very interesting.

    • profile image

      Karen1960 5 years ago

      Great stuff - I love the animated pics, really cool. My favourite 'moon' picture has to be the awe-inspiring "Earthrise.

    • profile image

      Sage62 5 years ago

      Wow! Nevereven heard of Cruithne before! Thanks for a very informative lens! Squidliked it!

    • SecondHandJoe LM profile image

      SecondHandJoe LM 5 years ago

      I learned so much! And I watched the Mythbusters video here and saw how topography alone can appear to shadowcast in different directions with only one light source! Another awesome lens!

    • profile image

      InnovativeToys 5 years ago

      Wow...thanks! I'm getting my moon education today, in preparation for the awesome full moon that is coming tonight.

    • sherridan profile image

      sherridan 5 years ago

      What an amazing lens, and with beautiful pictures and animation! I'll have to work on those tricks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      Hi, Debra! This is an interesting lens. I had never heard of Cruithne before. I enjoyed my visit here today.

    • Close2Art LM profile image

      Close2Art LM 5 years ago

      love reading and learning about the moon, I love looking at it even more, great job, Blessed

    • Zut Moon profile image

      Zut Moon 5 years ago

      Super Lens ... Blessed

    • Andy-Po profile image

      Nobody 5 years ago from UK

      Excellent lens

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      very informative lens, thanks for sharing

    • mihgasper profile image

      Miha Gasper 6 years ago from Ljubljana, Slovenia, EU

      Moon is great inspiration. Beautiful lens. Thanks!

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      @ecogranny: This page is tottally helpful for sure.

    • JoleneBelmain profile image

      JoleneBelmain 6 years ago

      I couldn't stop reading this lens... fabulous job and so informative.


    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      dose our solar system ends or expires if then what will mankind exist or next beginning will start mew life

    • ecogranny profile image

      Kathryn Grace 6 years ago from San Francisco

      Having grown up with the moon, first as a gorgeous beacon and nighttime wonder, then as a forbidding desert of rock and dust with our artificially-waving flag poked into its ground, and all the mystery and magic of those amazing Apollo visits, I have been fascinated my entire life. You've done a wonderful job here, both entertaining and informative. This is a bookmark page for sure.

    • puzzlerpaige profile image

      puzzlerpaige 6 years ago

      I always thought the moon was really cool. Now I think it's even better. I love all the images.

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 6 years ago

      Your lens is featured on Five Photos: Night Moon.

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      hamshi5433 6 years ago

      Am not so into all the scientific information about moon but I do admire the beauty of it very much! However from this page I have found out quite a lot of information about moon, and the way you`ve presented it is excellent! Thank you for taking your time to do such wonderful research about the moon and providing it here.

    • efriedman profile image

      efriedman 6 years ago

      Excellent information about a beautiful and important topic. I'd like to feature this lens. Thanks for building it.

    • LabKittyDesign profile image

      LabKittyDesign 7 years ago

      LabKitty says browlf!

    • Ereinion profile image

      Ereinion 7 years ago

      This is a beautiful lens! Very informative and interesting material.

      I just lensroll it with some of my lenses. Many thanks for your wonderful work!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      I just had so much fun learning about our Moon! You have a wonderful teaching gift, the Moon rocks and so do you! Beautiful work!

    • darciefrench lm profile image

      darciefrench lm 7 years ago

      Really cool lens about the moon! Love how you presented the moon pictures. Great job.

    • reflectionhaiku profile image

      reflectionhaiku 7 years ago

      Fascinating lens on Earth's best friend in space. Thumbs up and thanks for sharing.

    • profile image

      Jewelia 7 years ago

      Wow this Lens is way sooo cool! Ha I LOVED it and honestly I couldn't care less about the moon, but like I said you made it cool!

    • profile image

      anonymous 7 years ago

      Why is the moon a satelite??

    • profile image

      reasonablerobby 7 years ago

      Hi Debra, I really enjoyed reading your lens. It's a great introduction to moon exploration for beginners.

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 8 years ago from California

      dc64 -- lovely and informative lens on our biggest satellite. I have lensrolled it (bookmarked it) on my own lens about new photos of all the Apollo spacecraft on the moon, photographed by new satellites that the U.S., India and Japan recently put in orbit around the moon. :)

    • mythphile profile image

      Ellen Brundige 8 years ago from California

      @anonymous: Little Z -- nope! It's not quite synched to the earth's rotation -- otherwise it would always hang over the same spot on the planet, and heaven knows what that would do! Instead it's a little faster or slower (I'm not sure which) than the spin of the Earth. I'm betting the location isn't quite the same either, because the orbit isn't perfectly circular and perfectly synched with the earth's tilt, but I haven't confirmed that.

      There's a link to find moonrise and moonset times here:

    • joanhall profile image

      Joan Hall 8 years ago from Los Angeles

      Love this! Congratulations on purple star!

    • Dianne Loomos profile image

      Dianne Loomos 8 years ago

      Enjoyed reading about our Moon.

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      anonymous 8 years ago

      Does the moon rise every night at the same time and in the same location in the sky?

    • sleepless25 profile image

      sleepless25 8 years ago

      this is a very good read! dunno if you know this but moon was my first word :-)

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      Wow you've got a lot of good information.

      I just started a new lense about the moon kinda.

      Does the moon exist only when someone is looking at it?

      I just started it so I expect to be adding more stuff to it over time.

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      i've gotta do homework as well bout the earths natural satilitte anyone no about that otherwise i wouldn't be on here are skool rocks go north walsham high school

    • religions7 profile image

      religions7 8 years ago

      Great lens - you've been blessed by a squidoo angel :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago

      cool or what. i learnd a lot from here.

    • profile image

      Oosquid 8 years ago

      Wow! What a fantastic and detailed lens, I learned a lot about the moon. 5 stars and favorited.

    • grassosalvato86 profile image

      grassosalvato86 8 years ago


      I am passionate about astronomy, and I must say that this is just a great lens!

    • profile image

      anonymous 8 years ago


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      anonymous 9 years ago

      lol like no1 writes these things =)

    • profile image

      anonymous 9 years ago

      This is a cool website. Rock On!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!