What is a Waxing Moon? - Definition, Facts & Phase

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  • 0:05 The Lunar Cycle
  • 0:33 The Phases of the Moon
  • 1:45 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Mary Ellen Ellis
When you see the moon getting bigger in the night sky you are seeing more and more of its illuminated surface. This growing moon is called a waxing moon, and you can learn more about it in this lesson.

The Lunar Cycle

If you've ever enjoyed watching the moon at night (and sometimes even in the daytime sky), you've noticed that it doesn't always look the same. Its appearance changes - it can vary from full and round to completely absent and everything in between.

We see the moon go through changes because of the lunar cycle. This is the period of time from one new moon to the next new moon, with the new moon being when you can't see the moon at all. As the moon appears to grow from a non-existent new moon to a crescent to a full moon, we call it a waxing moon.

The Phases of the Moon

The moon doesn't make any light itself. The only reason we can see the moon at all is because its surface reflects light from the sun. The amount of the illuminated surface that we can see from Earth varies depending on the positions of the moon, Earth, and sun relative to each other. For example, during a new moon, the moon is between the earth and the sun. The side that is illuminated by the sun is facing away from the earth, which is why we can't see it.

In the opposite position, when the earth is between the moon and the sun, the illuminated surface of the moon faces us completely, and we see a full moon. The lunar cycle is the progression from the new moon through the full moon and back to a new moon again. It takes about 29 days, and we see the moon go through its different phases during that time. When the moon is new, we can't see it. As the moon starts to move around the earth, the illuminated side becomes more and more visible. From our vantage point it seems to grow and get bigger. This period of getting bigger is called waxing.

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