Physics and Astronomy of the Moon

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You will see phases just like those of the Moon on the ball. Another good way to get acquainted with the phases and motions of the Moon is to follow our satellite in the sky for a month or two, recording its shape, its direction from the Sun, and when it rises and sets. The trick to this figure is that you must imagine yourself standing on Earth, facing the Moon in each of its phases. Note that in every position on Figure, the Moon is half illuminated and half dark as a ball in sunlight should be.

The difference at each position has to do with what part of the Moon faces Earth. The Moon is said to be new when it is in the same general direction in the sky as the Sun position A. Here, its illuminated bright side is turned away from us and its dark side is turned toward us. In this phase the Moon is invisible to us; its dark, rocky surface does not give off any light of its own.

Because the new moon is in the same part of the sky as the Sun, it rises at sunrise and sets at sunset. But the Moon does not remain in this phase long because it moves eastward each day in its monthly path around us.

It has moved into a position where it now reflects a little sunlight toward us along one side. The bright crescent increases in size on successive days as the Moon moves farther and farther around the sky away from the direction of the Sun position B. Because the Moon is moving eastward away from the Sun, it rises later and later each day like a student during summer vacation. After about one week, the Moon is one-quarter of the way around its orbit position C and so we say it is at the first quarter phase.

Because of its eastward motion, the Moon now lags about one-quarter of the day behind the Sun, rising around noon and setting around midnight. Eventually, the Moon arrives at position E in our figure, where it and the Sun are opposite each other in the sky. The side of the Moon turned toward the Sun is also turned toward Earth, and we have the full phase.

When the Moon is full, it is opposite the Sun in the sky. The Moon does the opposite of what the Sun does, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. Its illumination throughout the night helps lovers on a romantic stroll and students finding their way back to their dorms after a long night in the library or an off-campus party. And when is the full moon highest in the sky and most noticeable? At midnight, a time made famous in generations of horror novels and films.

Note how the behavior of a vampire like Dracula parallels the behavior of the full Moon: Dracula rises at sunset, does his worst mischief at midnight, and must be back down in his coffin by sunrise. For example, homicides occur at the same rate during the new moon or the crescent moon as during the full moon. Most investigators believe that the real story is not that more crazy behavior happens on nights with a full moon, but rather that we are more likely to notice or remember such behavior with the aid of a bright celestial light that is up all night long.

During the two weeks following the full moon, the Moon goes through the same phases again in reverse order points F, G, and H in Figure , returning to new phase after about About a week after the full moon, for example, the Moon is at third quarter , meaning that it is three-quarters of the way around not that it is three-quarters illuminated—in fact, half of the visible side of the Moon is again dark.

At this phase, the Moon is now rising around midnight and setting around noon. This discovery allowed astronomers to determine the chemical composition of stellar atmospheres, and in fact, their work later came back to help physicists; the element helium was discovered in spectra from the Sun nearly 30 years before it was found on the Earth.

In recent years, rapid developments in physics and astronomy have kept pace with each other.

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The twin goliaths of 20th century theoretical physics - general relativity and quantum mechanics - helped explain an enormous number of developments in astronomy, from black holes to cosmology to the various processes by which light is emitted and absorbed in stars , galaxies and the spaces in between. Nuclear physics, meanwhile, predicts and is tested by reactions that take place in the centers of stars, those like the Sun and those undergoing violent events like supernovae.

Despite the above success, there is still much work to be done in physics, especially in the areas that relate to astronomy. Physicists continue to seek their holy grail - a unified theory which explains everything in the universe in one fell swoop. One possibile way to reconcile general relativity and quantum mechanics lies in string theory , a theoretical model of the universe still being developed that would involve many more dimensions of space-time than the currently accepted number of four.

Surprise: NASA Has Confirmed That Earth Has A New Moon | Physics-Astronomy

Will string theory eventually succeed, or will something else come along to take its place? We don't yet know. But the quest of physicists to understand the universe will continue, and the implications of our increased understanding - on philosophy, religion and society as a whole - will continue to grow. If you have a question about another area of astronomy, find the topic you're interested in from the archive on the side bar or search using the below search form.

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If you still can't find what you are looking for, submit your question here. Physics and Astronomy Isaac Newton provided one of the first examples of the link between physics and astronomy in the 17th century, when he reasoned that the force of gravity which pulls objects to the Earth is the same force which keeps the Earth and other planets in orbit around the sun. Beginner Do most astronomers believe in God based on the available scientific evidence?

Beginner Why is looking out into space the same as looking back in time? Beginner Is the speed of light constant? Beginner How can we understand the meaning of large numbers like "a million million?

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Intermediate Can you use an infinite line of reflectors to send light to the edge of the Universe? Intermediate How fast do particles travel in space? Intermediate Can you fire a gun on the Moon? Intermediate Is there such a thing as hyperspace? Intermediate How does melting a material reset its radioactive clock?

Intermediate Could a different theory of gravity explain the dark matter mystery? Intermediate Would the biggest airplanes cause tsunamis if they crashed? Intermediate Has there been an experiment that measured speed faster than the speed of light in vacuum?


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Intermediate Does the temperature of matter increase as it is accelerated to relativistic speeds? Advanced Particles and Quantum Physics Do electrons age? Beginner What causes a particle to decay?

Intermediate What is a graviton? Intermediate Does quantum entanglement imply faster than light communication? Intermediate What is the SU 3 quark model? Intermediate What is the photoelectric effect? Why can't multiple low-frequency photons free an electron? Intermediate How are photons created and destroyed? Can we observe them? If you think you are an expert you can even try answering the questions yourself! Physics Virtual Bookshelf : Documents on various physics topics written by staff members at the University of Toronto. Hyperphysics : Clear and succinct explanations of general physics.

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