Moon Phases: Names, Types, and Lunar Calendar

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Since the dawn of time, people have pondered over the moon. That strange sphere of cheese has fueled dreams of space travel, built new romantic metaphors, and inspired many an aspiring witch. It’s one of the many things that is constantly changing, and it turns out that every phase of the moon has its own name that’s worth knowing to impress your friends.

What Is a Moon Phase?

The moon itself never actually changes shape. It’s always spherical. However, the amount of the moon that you see changes based on how much of its surface gets lit up.

Each of those different shapes is referred to as a phase and is based on the relative position of the sun, Earth, and moon. 

What’s fun here is that phase initially referred to “the aspect presented by the moon or a planet at any point in time.” This definition was first used in 1647 before phase eventually became more generalized to refer to a general stage or period.

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What Are the 8 Different Moon Phases?

There are eight different phases of the moon that occur throughout the course of about a single month.

The word month actually comes from moon and initially referred to the amount of time corresponding with a full revolution of the moon. The moon takes about 29.5 days to go through all of its phases, from new moon to full moon.

1. New Moon

Despite the name, it’s always the same moon up there. The new moon refers to the beginning of a new cycle of moon phases. Unfortunately, there’s nothing to really see with a new moon. The new moon is completely invisible to the naked eye.

2. Waxing Crescent

While this sounds like you’re making the moon nicely polished and shiny, it actually refers to the moon making its small appearances from its invisible new moon phase. 

Waxing here actually means “to grow or increase.” Wax or waxing was actually more common in usage before grow overtook colloquial usage.

Crescent here refers to “a shape that appears as a segment of a ring that tapers at its ends.” The word comes from Middle English cressant and Old French creissant, but you might recognize it in the Modern French word croissant, a flaky pastry that has a slightly exaggerated crescent shape.

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3. First Quarter

First quarter can be a little confusing here because it’s when you see a half circle of the moon, which is why some people will unofficially refer to this as a half-moon.

However, the moon is a three-dimensional object, so really, you’re seeing half of a half of the moon (thus, a quarter!). First quarter here refers to the moon progressing a quarter of the way through its phases.

4. Waxing Gibbous

Again, waxing here means “to grow or increase,” but what in the world is gibbous? Gibbous means “rounded, convex, bulging, or protuberant.” Gibbous comes from the Latin word gibbus, meaning “a hump or hunch.”

You’ll almost exclusively see this in reference to the moon, though it could ostensibly refer to any spherical object that is bulging, from eyes to basketballs.

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5. Full Moon

When the moon is completely illuminated, creating a perfect circle, you have yourself a full moon. The name comes from a combination of the adjective full (meaning “completely filled”) and moon.

The idea of referring to the moon as full instead of complete, loaded, or jam-packed comes from Germanic origins. The Old High German for a full moon was the singular word volmāni, compared to the Modern German form vollmond.

6. Waning Gibbous

Following about two days of fullness, the moon proceeds to its waning gibbous form. A waning gibbous looks the same as a waxing gibbous but flipped around. 

Waning is the opposite of waxing. To wane means “to recede or reduce in size.” Gibbous still means “rounded, convex, bulging, or protuberant.”

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7. Last Quarter

This is another “half-moon,” but remember that you’re seeing half of a half again. Last quarter moons are also sometimes referred to as third-quarter moons, but if you’re not big on fractions, you don’t have to get too mired in all that.

8. Waning Crescent

The waning crescent phase is the last thumbnail sliver of moon that you see before the moon cycles back to its new moon phase. Waning still means “receding or reducing in size,” and crescent still refers to the curved shape that’s wider in its middle than at its ends.

Other Types of Moons

Moon phases and shapes won’t diverge from the above. If they do, there’s probably something mystically wrong in the universe. However, you might hear or see other moon terms alongside the above phase names.

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Blood Moon

An icon for goths of all ages, a blood moon is less gory than its name suggests. Officially, a blood moon occurs during a total lunar eclipse.

The moon appears red (hence the blood) as an effect of the sun’s rays refracted by the Earth’s atmosphere.

Smoke, dust, or a generally hazy sky can also contribute to a red-tinged moon. Some people will refer to these as blood moons as well.

Blue Moon

You’ve probably heard the idiom “once in a blue moon” to describe something that happens rarely. Understanding a blue moon takes a little extra info about lunar cycles and calendar years, but in basic terms, it refers to the third full moon in a season of four full moons. 

You essentially get an extra full moon in a three-month cycle, though despite the idiom, it’s a fairly common occurrence that happens every two to three years.

In terms of color, a blue moon usually isn’t blue. In rare cases, it might have a faint blue tinge, or much like the blood moon, dust or haze can give the moon a slight blue cast.

Supermoon

Sadly, the moon can’t develop superpowers (or can it?), so what makes a supermoon so super? Namely, its distance from Earth. Broadly, a supermoon is a full moon or new moon that appears larger than normal because it is at its closest point in orbit around the Earth.

Scientifically, this is known as a perigean full moon. Perigean is the adjective form of perigee, an astronomy term that refers to the point of orbit of any heavenly body (or artificial satellite) when it is closest to the Earth. The word is a borrowing of French and originates from Greek peregeion, in which peri- means "near" and geion/ge means “Earth” (consider Gaia, the Greek goddess of Earth).

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Traditional Full Moon Names

Ancient and indigenous cultures also gave each monthly moon its own name, which helped to build traditions and keep track of the seasons. American culture has adopted many of these traditional full moon names, so you might still see them pop up today.

Month

Traditional Full Moon Name

January

Wolf Moon

February

Snow Moon

March

Worm Moon

April

Pink Moon

May

Flower Moon

June

Strawberry Moon

July

Buck Moon

August

Sturgeon Moon

September or October

Harvest Moon

September

Full Corn Moon

October

Hunter’s Moon

November

Beaver Moon

December

Cold Moon