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Moon

In space, the closest object to Earth is the Moon. It orbits Earth, and appears to change shape as it moves—the different shapes are called PHASES. The Moon has no light of its own but shines by reflecting sunlight. It is the only other world that humans have set foot on.

Table 4. MOON DATA

Diameter (width) at equator 2,160 miles (3,476 km)
Average distance from Earth 238,900 miles (384,400 km)
Time to orbit Earth 27.3 days
Time to spin around own axis 27.3 days
Time to go through phases 29.5 days (1 month)
Mass0.01 x Earth’s mass
Gravity 0.17 x Earth’s gravity
Average temperature–4°F (–20°C)

WHAT IS THE MOON MADE OF?

The Moon is rocky. It has no atmosphere to protect it, so anything heading toward the Moon will crash into its surface, which is covered with craters from meteorites. The Moon has a hard outer crust of granitelike rock. The typical rock of the mare (plains) regions is similar to volcanic basalt on Earth. The Moon’s core, or center, may be partly molten (liquid).

HOW DOES THE MOON AFFECT EARTH?

The Moon’s gravity pulls on Earth’s oceans and distorts them, causing tides. The water on the side of Earth closest to the Moon experiences the biggest pull, and bulges outward. The water on the opposite side also bulges, and the two bulges follow the Moon’s motion and Earth’s rotation.

EARTH’S OCEAN TIDES

NEAP TIDE

The pull of the Sun and Moon affects the tides. The lowest (neap) tides occur when the Sun and the Moon pull at right angles to each other and their pulls partly cancel each other out.

SPRING TIDE

When the Sun and Moon line up in space, their gravities combine and create the highest (spring) tides.

Phases

Our changing views of light on the Moon are called phases. As on Earth, one half of the Moon is lit up by the Sun while the other half is dark. As the Moon orbits us, we see it from different angles, with its light side pointing toward us or away from us.

HOW DOES THE MOON GO THROUGH ITS PHASES?

The phases begin when the Moon comes between the Sun and Earth. The bright side of the Moon is facing away from us, and we see the dark near side. We call this a “new moon.” As the Moon moves along its orbit, we see more and more of the near side lit up, until we see it all lit up at “full moon.” Then we see less and less of the Moon lit up, until it shrinks to a crescent and then disappears at the next new moon.

CHANGING SHAPES

When the Moon seems to grow in size from night to night, we say it is waxing. When it seems to shrink, we say it is waning. A crescent moon is mostly dark, and a gibbous moon is mostly light. As the Moon orbits Earth, it spins on its own axis so the same half (the near side) always faces Earth—we never see the far side of the Moon.

Copyright © 2007 Dorling Kindersley

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