Learn the Phases of the Moon with an Easy-to-Use Moon Phase Diagram


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If you’re looking to increase your knowledge of the moon start with learning the phases of the moon. Anyone can learn the phases of the moon with this super easy-to-use moon phase diagram.


The lunar cycle describes the 28-29 day period where the moon rotates around the Earth. During this time it goes through various phases that change depending on how much shadow the moon is casting on itself. A typical cycle goes from the full moon, to the half moon, the new moon, and back around to the full moon again. A lot of diagrams and calendars seem to start on the new moon phase, and that works just as well as starting on the full moon cycle.

Ancient people used the lunar cycle and lunar calendar as their main method for keeping time. And they weren’t very far off of our calendar either! Our months are usually 28-31 days long, and the lunar month is 28. And the lunar year (12 lunar cycles) is only 10-11 days less than our solar calendar (365 days).

Learn the Phases of the Moon with this Easy-to-Use Moon Phase Diagram

Moon Phase Diagram

Credit for this awesome diagram goes to Hyperphysics

This moon phase diagram is both basic and incredibly simple, but also contains all the information you need to learn what each of the moon phases are.

Quick breakdown of the moon phase diagram

In the center obviously is Earth. The direction we’re rotating is even indicated with the little arrow. It’s also labeled with what time of day it is on each side.

Next in the moon phase diagram is the moon itself, each illustration of the moon depicts another one of the 8 major phases. Each illustration is divided into 2 halves, a white and a black side, or a “light” side and the “dark” side of the moon. This aspect of the moon phase diagram shows where the sunlight is hitting the moon, not necessarily the part that we see.

The moon rotates at the same rate it revolves, so the same side of the moon is always facing Earth, even if it’s not the illuminated part.

To the far left is the “sun” and easy to see arrows depicting where the light is coming from.

What the moon phase diagram tells us about the phases

This moon phase diagram tells us where the moon is in relation to the Sun and Earth during each phase, and shows us that it’s the moon’s casting a shadow on itself, not Earth’s shadow, when the moon is new, waxing, or waning.

What are the phases according to the moon phase diagram?

There are 8 standard phases of the moon, which is demonstrated in this particular diagram very clearly. There’s the new moon, waxing crescent, first quarter, waxing gibbous, full moon, waning gibbous, third quarter, waning crescent, and then back around to the new moon.

Check out this youtube video for kids on using the moon phase diagram to explain the universe. 

The New Moon phase on our moon phase diagram

Some agree that the full moon is both the beginning/end of the monthly lunar cycle. But when you’re looking at a moon phase diagram it seems counterintuitive, because it’s on the right side of the diagram and most of us read left to right. So for our purposes we’re going to call the new moon the first phase in the cycle. Plus, it says “new” right in the phase name.

The new moon is when the moon is between the sun and Earth, so the entirety of the dark side is turned towards Earth. All of the light reflected off the moon is reflected away from Earth so we don’t see any of the familiar moonglow.

The Waxing Crescent phase on the moon phase diagram

“Waxing” when it comes to a moon phase calendar refers to when the moon is approaching it’s full moon phase. It simply means the moon is getting bigger. The waxing crescent stage is when only a sliver of the moon is visible. From our perspective on Earth it’s the right side, even though on the moon phase diagram the sun is hitting it on the left.

The First Quarter on the moon phase diagram

This is the half way point between the new moon and full moon phases. Half of the moon’s face is illuminated for us, but then why do we call it the “first quarter?” Well, that’s because it’s only a quarter of the moon that we’re able to see. It’s half a circle, quarter of the sphere. From our perspective it’s the right side of the moon that’s illuminated.


For more information on what the phase names mean on our moon phase diagram check out this post! 


Waxing Gibbous on the moon phase diagram

The waxing gibbous is the last stage before we get to the full moon phase. This phase is any moon that’s out between the first quarter and the fully full moon. Some of the later nights that falls under the waxing gibbous phase look so suspiciously like the full moon that it’s often mistaken for it.

The Full Moon on this moon phase diagram

The full moon is on the far side of the moon phase diagram because we’re seeing the full force of the sun’s reflection on the moon. So it has to be on the far side of the Earth, otherwise we’d be seeing shadow.

The waning gibbous on this moon phase diagram

When the moon has just gotten done with the full phase, it’s moved into the next phase: waning gibbous. The waning gibbous is an oblong, awkwardly circular shape, with the shadow being cast on the right side of its face so we can see the left side.

Waning is the opposite of waxing; a waxing moon is becoming more and more apparent to us, whereas the waning moon is becoming less apparent.


Put this moon phase diagram to good use and see what the Halloween's moon phase is going to be like!


Third Quarter on our moon phase diagram

The third quarter phase is both the same and exact opposite of the first quarter. It’s the exact same shape, simply flip-flopped to be on the opposite side. The first quarter is the right side the third quarter is the left.

Finally: the Waning Crescent and the moon phase diagram

Just before we restart the cycle and enter into the new moon phase again we’ve got the waning crescent phase. This is when the moon truly looks like a crescent, or a large C in the sky. This phase is the last few days in the lunar month, and when it finally disappears the cycle will repeat itself again.