STEM Mom

What is the new moon?

Do you ever look up into the night sky and wonder? What is going on up there? Are there aliens? Still looking. Are we made up of stardust? Yes. Are we the center of the universe? In a manner of speaking. Is the moon made of cheese? No. And lastly, why does the moon look different over the course of the month? In this post I include a simple demonstration to help show you the moon phases and discuss what the new moon is since the moon seems to magically disappear and reappear throughout the month.

Simple set up to demonstrate phases of the moon to kids.

The full moon is when we see the illuminated side of the moon because earth is in between the moon and the sun. You can set up a model with your children fairly easily to explain the phases of the moon as long as you have a flashlight (or lamp) and two objects (preferably one larger than the other). Pick an area where you have some space to move around and set the lamp at one end, the larger of the two objects about the middle of your space and then your child(ren) should hold the smaller of the balls and is going to act out the part of the moon. As you can see in the picture we just set up a bucket to be earth, but it gets the point across.

Have your child walk very slowly in a circle around the “Earth” and note how the light from the sun shows up on the moon at different times during the walk. At the full moon the earth is between the moon and the sun but it still makes a straight line and all the glory of the sun is shining on the moon so we can see what looks like the whole moon but as your child moves around the earth and the moon is now between the earth and the sun we can’t see the face of the moon that faces the sun and thus we little Earthlings see the dark side of the moon and the moon is seemingly absent from the night sky unless you’ve got special equipment. You can have your kid(s) take notes and make observations as the moon rotates through it’s cycle and see what they notice.

When the moon is between the sun and earth we can’t see the moon because it’s not being lit up by the sun in our direction. The lighted portion is facing away from earth.

The moon phases have been an important part of human culture practically since time began. While the sun can impact seasonality and daily (i.e. the circadian rhythm of sleep and wake times) there doesn’t seem to be as strong of a correlation to our monthly life cycles as the moon. The moon represents the monthly cycle because each night with the moon is slightly different and there is no shortage of how the lunar cycles impact a variety of cultures and religions around the world.

In an attempt to get your children more acquainted with the natural cycles the moon is a great way to start because if you’ve got children with keen eyes or your interested in using a telescope you can see the slight changes to the moon every night. With the little demonstration your child(ren) can see how the moon’s changing position causes it to look slightly different every night and how lunar calendars were an easy way to track early business deals, reproductive cycles of some animals or monthly tasks that needed to be completed before the invention of any calendar with 30 or 31 days.

More specifically, the new moon is a time when the sky is dark at night. This is an important time for biological creatures, not just us. There is evidence to suggest that the new moon is crucial to helping predators stalk at night or others avoid being prey. The new moon changes the way night looks and is the part of the cycle that makes the nighttime scary for organisms of all kinds. The new moon and full moon create some of the highest tides which are important for coastal organisms. There is still much debate about what the moon effects for humans and what it doesn’t but there is ample evidence for some relationship between lunar cycles and some biological rhythms. Taken from the abstract of a paper published in the journal Ethology, Ecology and Evolution in January 2021: “Vocal activity was positively associated with the percent of the moon illuminated, with 75% of the nights on which the species was vocally active having a moon illumination percentage higher than 77%.” (Vocal activity of the Ferruginous pygmy-owl (Glaucidium brasilianum) is strongly correlated with moon phase and nocturnal temperature by Pérez-Granados et al.)

Some of the easiest ways for us humans to become more connected to the natural world around us is by stepping outside of our modern homes, getting away from the streetlights and taking the time to look up for a few minutes ever night. The night sky has inspired humans for generations and noticing it’s changes during the course of the month can cue you into the cyclical pattern of the world. There’s stardust in all of us and we are all part of the cosmos together. Keep looking around you and keep wondering.

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