You can use this Moon phase calendar to familiarise yourself with the changing phases of the Moon, to select nights for viewing the Moon through your telescope or binoculars (the first quarter is best – when deep shadows outline craters and other topographical features of the Moon), or, as some people believe (with varying scientific veracity), to choose the best time for fishing, gardening or cutting your hair. See below the calendar for more information and some ways the Moon has influenced or inspired humans.
The above Moon phase graphics are indicative only and may be in error by up to one day. For accurate Moon phases see the monthly pdf sky charts provided on the Sydney Observatory monthly sky guides blog and in the ‘Australian sky guide’ book which also includes the Sydney high and low water tide times for every day of the year (tides are caused by the Moon).
Astronomical information about the Moon can be found in our Solar System guide.
THE MOON AND OUR UNDERSTANDING OF TIME
Humans have gazed up at the Moon for millenia and wondered…. Bone artefacts discovered in France from some 30,000 years ago have marks etched in them, appearing to indicate the 29-day lunar cycle.
Representations of lunar cycles have been found in cave paintings and carvings more than 20,000 years old. Observation and study of the Moon gave early peoples a way to count the passage of days and predict the arrival of the seasons. The oldest calendars were based on the lunar cycle. Our modern Gregorian calendar (introduced by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582) is primarily based on the solar year.
The gigantic stones forming the prehistoric monument, Stonehenge, assembled some 4,500 years ago, appear to form an astronomical calendar, with some stones appearing to correspond with positions of the Moon.
Ancient gods and goddesses associated with the Moon include Horus (Egyptian god of the sky, his right eye signifying the Sun and his left eye signifying the Moon; Osiris was also an ancient Egyptian Moon god), Coyolxauhqui (Aztec Moon goddess), Artemis (Greek Moon goddess), and Diana (Roman Moon goddess).
THE MOON INSPIRING THE ARTS
The Moon has inspired the arts for millenia – from cave paintings and etchings through poetry, literature, music, painting, sculpture and film to performance art, television and computer and video games.
- George Melies made the 4-minute hand-coloured film, ‘La Lune a un metre (The Astronomer’s Dream)’ in 1898, and the 14-minute ‘Le Voyage dans la Lune (Voyage to the Moon)’ in 1902 – both featuring fantastic realisations like fairies and the Man in the Moon.
- ‘Cat-Women of the Moon’, a 1953 3D film directed by Arthur Hilton, in which gold is found on the Moon and the crew are chased back to Earth by beautiful cat-women.
- ’2001: a Space Odyssey’, 1968, directed by Stanley Kubrik, based on the novel by Arthur C. Clarke.
- ‘A Grand Day Out’, a 1994 stop motion film by Nick Park of Aardman Animation, in which Wallace and Gromit build a spaceship and fly to the Moon, to discover it is made of cheese – possibly Wensleydale.
- ‘Moon’, 2009, directed by Duncan Jones, starring Sam Rockwell and Kevin Spacey, a science fiction drama set on the Moon.
One example is the 2004-2007 BBC comedy series ‘The Mighty Boosh’ that sometimes included a segment in which the Moon presents us with his take on life, and even sings a song about being the Moon. Irreverent, silly and decidedly unscientific – but droll.
- ‘The Moonlight Sonata’ (1801) by Ludwig van Beethoven
- ‘Casta diva’ (1831) from ‘Norma’ by Vincenzo Bellini
- ‘Au Claire de Lune (By the Light of the Moon)’ (1890) by Claude Debussy
- ‘Shine on, Harvest Moon’ (1907) by Jack Norworth and Nora Bayes
- ‘Blue Moon’ (1934) written by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart
- ‘Moon River’, composed by Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini in 1961, which featured in the film ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’ (sung by Audrey Hepburn), and which became Andy Williams’ theme song.
- ‘Bad Moon Rising’ (1969), written by John Fogerty, performed by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- ‘Moonshadow’ (1970), written and performed by Cat Stevens
- ‘Dark Side of the Moon’ (1973), the Pink Floyd concept album
- ‘Walking on the Moon, (1979), the Police
Many books and poems feature or are set on the Moon, including novels by Jules Verne (1828-1905), H. G. Wells (1866-1946), Robert A. Heinlein (1907-88), Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008) and Isaac Asimov (1920-92).
Here is part of the poem, ‘Night’ by William Blake (1757-1827)
‘The moon like a flower
In heaven’s high bower,
With silent delight,
Sits and smiles on the night.’
THE MOON – INSPIRING SCIENCE, PHILOSOPHY, FOLKLORE AND SUPERSTITION
The word ‘lunatic‘ derives from the Latin ‘luna’ meaning ‘Moon’. Folkloric beliefs held that the Moon affected some people, causing cyclical mental health issues. There is no scientific evidence supporting this belief. It is possible that before our ability to control light and dark, that the light of the full Moon may have prevented people from getting the sleep they required which may have caused symptoms of sleep-deprivation which could manifest as mood disorders or detachment from reality.
In the mid 18th century, Sir William Blackstone (1723-80) wrote his ‘Commentaries on the Laws of England’. His definition was used in the framing of the Lunacy Act of 1845: ‘One who has had understanding but by reason of disease or grief has lost the use of his reason. A lunatic is indeed one that has lucid intervals, sometimes enjoying his senses and sometimes not and that frequently depends on the change of the Moon.’
The 18th century in England was a time of fervent interest and growth of science and industry. The Lunar Society was an informal group of amateur scientists who met in each other’s homes on the Monday nearest the full Moon so the Moon illuminated their journeys (usually walking) for the meetings – and thus named their society. Lunar Society members included Mathew Boulton (1728-1809); Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), grandfather of Charles Darwin; James Keir (1735-1820); Joseph Priestley (1733-1804); and James Watt (1736-1819). (One of the Powerhouse Museum’s iconic objects is the Boulton and Watt steam engine.)
The Moon was central to the ideas of Austrian philosopher, Rudolph Steiner (1861-1925), in his development of biodynamic farming. This theory posits that the Moon, in association with zodiac signs, influences plant development, and that healthier and more abundant crops will result from planting and harvesting according to Moon phases. For example, the belief is that the waxing Moon (increasing in light) causes fluids to be drawn upwards in plants, encouraging growth. So planting in a new Moon is believed to provide the longest waxing Moon period and encourage germination or greatest growth.
These beliefs are based in the fact that the Moon phases affect the tides on Earth – and that much on Earth apart from oceans and rivers is made largely of water (including animals of which humans are just one species), so there is thought to be a similar affect of the Moon on us.
There are some who believe that, according to the same theories, if you want your hair to grow faster, cut it on or just after the new Moon. If you want to slow your hair growth, cut it at or after the full Moon. This belief is more astrological than astronomical, and we’ve seen no scientific evidence to support this theory. However, just as mythologies that incorporate celestial bodies are of interest to us at Sydney Observatory, it is fascinating to consider the many beliefs people have had across cultures and through time related to what they can see in the sky. And how these mythologies and beliefs have changed through time.
Many fisherpeople believe that if you fish when sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset coincide with new or full Moon phases, you’ll increase you chance of good fishing.
Some people believe that wolves howl at the Moon. Another ancient belief was that at full Moon some people changed into animals, such as werewolves. There is no substantiation for these ideas.
However some animals do respond to the Moon and moonlight. A number of marine invertebrates, including some worms, corals, urchins, sea cucumbers and crinoids, reproduce in cycles linked to the phases of the Moon. Some species of flatworm live on the seashore and repeatedly appear in anticipation of the tides. When taken into a laboratory far from the sea, they will continue to repeat the tidal cycle for several days. Other animals use the tides or moonlight to guide their migration and to orientate themselves. Some sea slugs seem to use the Earth’s geo-magnetic field and the full Moon to orientate themselves.
The Moon still holds many mysteries for us – but our knowledge of our nearest neighbour in the Universe increases day by day, night by night, gradually helping us to dispel myths and superstitions, and helping us to better understand life and the Universe.
Humans on the Moon
The first landing of humans on the Moon took place on 20 July 1969, in a United States mission aboard Apollo 11. The Commander of that flight, Neil Armstrong, was the first person to set foot on the Moon. He then uttered the now-famous words: “That’s one small step for [a] man, one giant leap for mankind”. The other members of the crew were Command Module Pilot, Michael Collins, and Lunar Module Pilot, ‘Buzz’ Aldrin – the other man to walk on the Moon in that mission.