Sunday, June 20, 2010

Mooning Around

People love the crescent moon. When people think of the moon, many imagine it as a crescent, shining in the west after a beautiful sunset.

The full moon is popular too, rising in the east as the firmament fades to black after sunset. There are even special names for full moons, like the Harvest Moon or the Full Cold Moon.

The new moon is special because it marks the beginning of a new lunar cycle.

Even the half moon is memorable, showing up in names of many restaurants, pubs, locations, etc.

However, I always feel bad for the gibbous moon. Nobody ever talks about it. Most people have never heard of the word gibbous, or know what shape the gibbous moon is.

The gibbous moon is like the opposite of the crescent moon: wherever the crescent is lighted, the gibbous moon is dark and vice versa. It's partway between a half circle and a full circle.

After the moon appears to grow in width (to wax) from new to crescent to half, it then becomes gibbous. It gets fatter and fatter for almost a week until it is a full moon.

After that it appears to shrink in width (to wane), reversing the order of the phases from full to gibbous to half to crescent to new.

Even though the moon spends the better part of two weeks as a gibbous shape, most people don't realize it. I think it's because when the moon is a really fat gibbous, people think of it as full, and when it's a day or two past half, people still consider it to be half.

Also, the gibbous shape isn't very common in general. The full moon is a circle, like a pizza, a CD, an orange. A half moon is a half circle, like half a pie. A crescent is like a banana. But what's a gibbous shape like?

So here's to the gibbous moon, the overlooked shape!

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