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Facts about the Moon

The Moon travels around the Earth.

The Moon travels around the Earth in a circle called an orbit.

icon How long does it take the Moon to orbit the Earth?

The Moon takes about 27 days (27 days, 7 hours, 43 minutes, 11.6 seconds) to go all the way around the Earth and return to its starting position.

The Moon's orbit around the Earth is a slightly squashed circle called an ellipse.

icon What is a Lunar Month?

A lunar month is the time the moon takes to pass through a complete cycle of its phases and is measured from New Moon to New Moon. A lunar month is about 29.5 days (29 days, 12 hours, 43 minutes, 11.6 seconds)

icon Why is a Lunar month (29.5 days) longer than the number of days it takes the Moon to orbit the Earth (27.3)?

Whilst the Moon is orbiting the Earth, the Earth is constantly moving because it is orbiting the sun. The Moon therefore travels slightly more than 360° to get from one new moon to the next. Thus the lunar month is longer.

icon How old is the Moon?

The Moon is 4.5 billion years old.

icon Which direction does the Moon travel around the Earth?

Looking down from the north pole we would see the Moon orbiting counterclockwise from west to east.

Did you know?

The moon moves toward the east in our sky by about 12 degrees each day.

The moon rises in the east and sets in the west

icon How far is the Moon from Earth?

The Moon is about 250,000 miles (384,400 kilometres) from Earth.

   Travelling by car:
   Travelling by rocket:
   Travelling by light speed:
130 days
13 hours
1.52 sec

icon How fast does the Moon travel around the Earth?

The moon orbits Earth at an avaerage speed of 2,288 miles per hour (3,683 kilometres per hour).

The Moon travels at different speeds during different parts of its orbit. It moves slowest when it is at furthest distance from Earth. The Moon moves fastest in its orbit when it is closest to Earth.

icon What distance does the Moon travel around the Earth?

The Moon travels a distance of 1,423,000 miles (2,290,000 kilometres) around the Earth

icon How wide is the Moon?

The Moon has a diameter of 2,000 miles ( 3,476 kilometres).

The surface of the Moon has about the same area as the continent of Africa.

icon What is the surface of the Moon like?

The surface of the moon has many things on it such as craters, lava plains, mountains, and valleys. Scientists believe the craters were formed around 3.5 to 4.5 billion years ago by meteors hitting the moon's surface.

moon print

The Moon has extremely thin atmosphere

Water was discovered on the moon in November 2009

With so little atmosphere, the moon has no weather and hardly any protection from the sun.

Footprints left on the Moon by Apollo astronauts will remain visible for at least 10 million years because there is no erosion on the Moon.

icon Why can we see the Moon?

The Moon is not a light source, it does not make its own light.

The moon reflects light from the sun.

We can see the Moon because light from the Sun bounces off it back to the Earth.

If the Sun wasn't there, we wouldn't be able to see the Moon.

The Sun always lights up (illuminates) one side of the Moon.

The Moon appears to change shape but what we are actually seeing is the Moon lit up by the light from the Sun in different ways on different days.

icon The Moon and the tides

tideThe moon causes many of the tides in the Earth's oceans. This is because of the gravity force between the Earth and Moon.

During full and new moons the gravitational forces of the Sun and Moon combine to produce the highest tides called Spring Tides.

During quarter moons the gravitational forces of the Sun and the Moon oppose each other to produce the lowest tides called Neap Tides.

icon Did you know?

We always see the same side of the moon. The Moon always keeps the same side pointing towards us so we can never see the 'back' of the Moon from the Earth.

As the moon rotates around the earth, it also rotates around its own axis at the same rate. This is why we always see the same side of the moon.

A few days after new moon, when there is just a very slim crescent, you can sometimes see earthshine on the unilluminated portion of the Moon. Earthshine is caused by sunlight being reflected off the Earth and falling onto the Moon.

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon during the Apollo 11 mission

The moon rises and sets at specific times, according to what phase it is in:

The new moon rises and sets at approximately the same time as the sun.

The first quarter moon rises at mid-morning and sets at midnight. So it's at its height around dusk, not in the middle of the night.

The full moon rises at sunset and sets at sunrise. The full moon is the only moon that will be overhead in the middle of the night.

The last quarter moon rises at midnight and sets at mid-morning. So unless you're a late-owl, you've probably never even seen this moon.


The full moon is a lunar phase occurring when the moon is on the opposite side of the earth from the sun and all three bodies are aligned in a straight line. It appears as an entire circle in the sky.

The only month that can occur without a full moon is February.

The world's tidal ranges are at their maximum during the full moon when the sun, earth and moon are in line.

The full moon is given different names, depending on when it appears:

  • January - Moon After Yule, Wolf Moon, or Old Moon
  • February - Snow Moon or Hunger Moon
  • March - Sap Moon, Crow Moon, Worm Moon or Lenten Moon
  • April - Grass Moon, Frog Moon or Egg Moon
  • May - Milk Moon or Planting Moon
  • June - Rose Moon, Flower Moon, or Strawberry Moon
  • July - Thunder Moon or Hay Moon
  • August - Grain Moon or Green Corn Moon
  • September - Fruit Moon or Harvest Moon
  • October - Harvest Moon or Hunter's Moon
  • November - Hunter's Moon, Frosty Moon, or Beaver Moon
  • December - Moon Before Yule or Long Night Moon.

icon Blue Moon
The second full moon occurring within a calendar month is called a Blue Moon. The last was seen on 31 December 2009. Far from being a rare event this phenomenon occurs once every three years on average. The next blue moon occurs on 31 August 2012.

icon Lunar Halo - ring around the Moon
A lunar halo is caused by light refracted through ice crystals in cirrus clouds. These six sided ice crystals refract the light at a 22 degree angle, almost always producing a halo that is 22 degrees in diameter.
Moon animationsnext page
previous pageWhy does the moon look different in the southern hemisphere?
icon moon Introduction to phases icon moon Tips for Moon watching
icon moon Shapes of the Moon icon moon Moon around the world
icon moon Time to see each phase icon moon Facts about the Moon
icon moon Moon Calendar 2014 icon moon Moon animation

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I teach computers at The Granville School and St. John's Primary School in Sevenoaks Kent.