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Observing the Moon


The Moon has always appeared in the sky and invokes different thoughts and feelings for everyone. The following are some examples:

            Full moons cause the werewolves to come out


            The Moon is made of green cheese


            The man in the Moon looks like Chevy Chase


            A romantic evening is not complete without a full Moon


The Moon always asks more questions than it answers. For example:


            Where does the Moon go when does not shine at night?


            What causes an eclipse?


            How are the Moon and the oceans’ tides related?


            What is the significance of the phases of the Moon?


With this activity we will find out the answers to these questions and many others. We will observe the Moon over the span of a month and analyze our results to come up with a model of how the Moon orbits around the Earth. Once we have this model we will be able to explain the answers to the questions above (except the greeen cheese one).


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Observing the Moon’s Motion


Title of Activity


Observing the phases of the moon.


Materials List


1.       Compass

2.       Yardstick

3.       Moonrise and Moonset chart for observation location

4.       Observation log

Safety Considerations


Caution should be used when observing the Moon during the daytime that students do not look into the sun.

Activity Description


Click on the image below to take you to the detailed description of the activity. Activity 6-3 and 6-4 are the ones we will be doing. Please read the introduction for more background information.


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Science Emphasis


Physical Science


Oregon Science Standards and Benchmarks

1)      Theme – Earth and Space Science

2)      Content Standards

Explain relationships among the Earth, sun, moon, and the solar system.

3)      Grade Level benchmarks – Benchmark 3 (Grade 8)

Explain the relationship of the Earth’s motion to the day, season, year, phases of the moon, and eclipses.


Description and Importance of the Activity


With this activity, students will make observations of the moon over the course of one month’s time. Observations are to be taken both in the daytime and the nighttime. This activity is a good one for students to develop an understanding of how the orbit of the moon relative to the Earth causes the different phases of the moon. It will also help to gain an understanding of both lunar and solar eclipses.

Objectives of the Activity


  1. Watch the Moon and record the observations as it goes through a full cycle.
  2. Learn how to measure right ascension and declination of an object in the sky.
  3. Develop an understanding of the movement of the Moon around the Earth.
  4. Understand why the Moon is illuminated the way it is during the different phases.
  5. Understand how the Moon affects the tides.




            Tying Ideas Together – Pre-test


            Assessment – Post-test



Extensions and Integration


Once students have an understanding of the motion of the Moon, they can build a tabletop model that has an Earth, Moon, and Sun. The Earth would be in the middle, the Moon could be on a lazy susan that orbit around the Earth, and a flashlight could be the Sun. By moving the Moon around the Earth, students could observe the “phases” of the Moon.

TAG students could pursue the topics of orbit inclination and sidereal motion.

This lesson can be integrated with literacy and social science to have them investigate the history of the people who made important discoveries about the Moon including space missions and astronauts. Students could be asked to prepare reports about how the Moon is represented in art or literature. The Earth, Sun, Moon model could be modeled with PE students orbiting each other and holding large balls to represent planets.

Additional Information and Sources


http://www.nineplanets.org/ - a website with detailed information about the Moon and the other planets

http://www.astrosociety.org/education/publications/tnl/12/images/phases.gif - an image that shows the different phases of the moon during its orbit

http://www.nasm.si.edu/apollo/ - a website that provides thorough, detailed information about all of the Apollo missions.




The Moon is typically taken for granted and most people do not pay attention to it other than to notice full moons. Having students perform this activity will allow them to develop an awareness of the Moon and its phases so whenever they look at the Moon they will have an awareness of its phase and where it is going. The activity will also introduce students to the concept of orbits, orbital planes, and the motion of planets. The observation and measurement techniques can also be used later for finding planets and stars in the sky. This activity should provide students with background that will exceed the benchmark referenced above.

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When does a full Moon occur?


What is a new Moon?


How often does a full Moon occur?


How often does a new Moon occur?


What is the period of the orbit of the Moon around the Earth?


Is the phase of the Moon the same or different in the southern hemisphere? In the Middle East?


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Post-test assessment


What causes an eclipse?


What causes a solar eclipse?


Where does the Moon go when it is not shining at night?


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Declination – Angle from the horizon to an object in the sky


Earthshine – Reflected sunlight from the Earth


Eclipse – A condition where the Moon is in the shadow of the Earth.


Ecliptic plane – Plane of the Earth’s orbit


Full moon – Phase of the moon where the entire face is illuminated with sunlight


New moon – Phase of the moon where the face is illuminated only with earthshine


Orbit inclination – The angle between the ecliptic plane of the Earh and the plane of the Moon’s orbit


Phases of the Moon – A way to describe the different ways that the Moon appears in terms of how much of the face of the Moon is illuminated

Right ascension – The compass bearing of an object in the sky

Sidereal motion – The extra rotation needed for an orbiting object to return to the same location.

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