It’s probably easiest to understand the moon cycle in this order: new moon and full moon, first quarter and third quarter, and the phases in between.
A new moon occurs when the moon is positioned between the earth and sun. The three objects are in approximate alignment. The entire illuminated portion of the moon is on the back side of the moon, the half that we cannot see.
At a full moon, the earth, moon, and sun are in approximate alignment, just as the new moon, but the moon is on the opposite side of the earth, so the entire sunlit part of the moon is facing us. The shadowed portion is entirely hidden from view.
The first quarter and third quarter moons (both often called a “half moon“), happen when the moon is at a 90 degree angle with respect to the earth and sun. So we are seeing exactly half of the moon illuminated and half in shadow.
Once you understand those four key moon phases, the phases between should be fairly easy to visualize, as the illuminated portion gradually transitions between them.
An easy way to remember and understand those “between” lunar phase names is by breaking out and defining 4 words: crescent, gibbous, waxing, and waning. The word crescent refers to the phases where the moon is less than half illuminated. The word gibbous refers to phases where the moon is more than half illuminated. Waxing essentially means “growing” or expanding in illumination, and waning means “shrinking” or decreasing in illumination.
Thus you can simply combine the two words to create the phase name, as follows:
After the new moon, the sunlit portion is increasing, but less than half, so it is waxing crescent. After the first quarter, the sunlit portion is still increasing, but now it is more than half, so it is waxing gibbous. After the full moon (maximum illumination), the light continually decreases. So the waning gibbous phase occurs next. Following the third quarter is the waning crescent, which wanes until the light is completely gone — a new moon.
One of the things I love most about the moon, is that every person who ever lived, every living thing that ever walked this earth has gazed upon the same beautiful moon. The loved ones who are no longer here have stared at that moon you look at right now. That moon you see in the night sky is the same moon that has shaped this earth and all the events that have taken place here.
We are all connected.
When the moon is close to full, you can see the strong contrast between its grey plains and white mountainous regions, which some people see as the “man in the moon” and others see as a rabbit apparently?
With the naked eye or better still a pair of binoculars, you can see the three main dark plains on half of the moon, which bear the gorgeous names of the Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms), Mare Serenitatis (Sea of Serenity) and Mare Imbrium (Sea of Rains). These were named before scientists knew that there were no open bodies of water on the moon, and no atmosphere to cause storms or rains.
Also look for the brightest crater on the moon, Tycho, with its beautiful system of rays, caused by material expelled by the impact of an asteroid millions of years ago.
The moon wields her strong force and her influence, with all that is fluid.
She is considered a luminary (a natural light-giving body), yet she produces no light of her own accord.
She is completely reliant upon the sun’s light to reflect (mirror) her image to our earthly eyes.
This method of projecting light makes the moon a symbol of subtlety.