A person holds an assembled paper moon phases calendar

Overview

*Update: Dec. 15, 2021 – The previous version of the 2021 low-ink Calendar Wheel showed the sunlight on the wrong side of each moon phase. The page has been updated to correct the issue. We apologize for the error. Replace the previous version by printing out page 1 (or 1-2 double-sided, if desired) of the updated version and attaching it to the assembled calendar in place of the previous Calendar Wheel (bottom page). 


Students use their knowledge of the phases of the Moon to assemble a printable Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator. They can then use the tool to look up the phase of the Moon for any day of the year and predict when and where the Moon will be visible.

Materials

Management

  • Some students, especially younger ones, may not have the fine motor skills required to complete some of the hole-punching, cutting, and taping required. Be prepared to provide assistance as appropriate for your students.
  • Brass fasteners are recommended, but other means of fastening together the pieces of the calendar while still allowing them to rotate can be used (e.g., buttons placed on the top and bottom of the calendar and sewn together or a paperclip folded to function like a fastener).
  • To conserve printer ink, use the low-ink version of the template.
  • The video tutorial available below can be used to prepare for the activity and as a guide for students.
  • The Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator is designed for use in the northern hemisphere. All times on the calendar are approximate and listed in standard time. During daylight saving time, add one hour for a more accurate Moon-viewing time.

Background

Moon phases are the different amounts of illumination we see on the Moon from our perspective on Earth. They are the result of the relative positions of the Sun, Moon, and Earth as the Moon orbits our planet over a period of about 29.5 days.

The disk of the Moon becomes increasingly illuminated from left to right as the phases progress from new moon (completely dark) to full Moon (completely illuminated) then increasingly dark from left to right as the phases continue back through new moon

This short looping animation shows a complete cycle of moon phases. Image credit: NASA | + Expand image

A complete lunar cycle starts with a new moon, then progresses through seven more distinct phases before returning to the new moon phase. During the new moon phase, the Moon is between the Sun and Earth. We don’t see it because the side facing Earth is not lit by the sun and because it is so bright outside.

As the Moon orbits Earth, viewers see the side of the Moon facing Earth become more illuminated as it goes through its phases. In order of appearance, viewers see:

  1. New moon
  2. Waxing crescent
  3. First quarter
  4. Waxing gibbous
  5. Full moon
  6. Waning gibbous
  7. Third quarter
  8. Waning crescent
Images of the Moon during each of the eight moon phases are shown in order of their appearance as the Moon orbits Earth with the new moon in the 3-oclock position and the full moon in the 9-oclock position.

This graphic shows the eight phases of the Moon in their relative position in orbit around Earth. Image credit: NASA | + Expand image

Each phase rises over the eastern horizon and sets over the western horizon at different times of day and night. Depending on the phase and moonrise or moonset time, the Moon may not be visible at its rising or setting time, but its visibility, or lack of visibility, follows a predictable and observable pattern.

Procedures

  1. Print out the Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator template, double-sided, preferably on heavy paper or card stock. Note: Printing is recommended as copying may cause misalignment issues.

    Replacing last year's calendar: To update last year's calendar, students will need a print out of a new Calendar Wheel and Viewing Wheel, pages 1-2 and 5-6 of the PDF. They’ll need to save their Moon Phases Wheel (with the phases shaded in), and Moonrise and Moonset Panels from last year. If it's too hard to remove the Moonrise and Moonset Panels from last year's calendar, they may want to replace those with new ones from pages 3-4 of the PDF.
  2. Moon Phases Calendar printed double sided on three pages

    Print it out. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  3. Before cutting anything out, students should use their knowledge of the Moon to shade in the phases on the Moon Phases Wheel according to the labels. Have students make a Moon journal or guide them through this Moon Phases lesson first to provide them with the background knowledge needed to complete this step.

    Replacing last year's calendar: Students should remove and set aside the brass fastener from last year's calendar. Then they’ll set aside the Moon Phases Wheel. They should remove and set aside the Moonset and Moonrise Panels taped to the Viewing Wheel and recycle the rest. If it's too hard to remove the Moonrise and Moonset Panels from last year's calendar, they may replace those with new ones from pages 3-4 of the PDF.
  4. A pencil is used to shade in the moon phases on the Moon Phases Wheel

    Shade it in. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  5. Students will then cut out the Moon Phases Wheel, the Moonset and Moonrise Panels, and the Viewing Wheel where indicated on the back.

    Replacing last year's calendar: Students will cut out the new Viewing Wheel. If necessary, they’ll cut out replacement Moonset and Moonrise Panels. At this point, they should have five pieces total: 1) Calendar Wheel, 2) Viewing Wheel, 3) Moon Phases Wheel (with phases shaded in), 4) Moonset Panel and 5) Moonrise Panel. They should be sure that the year on the Calendar Wheel matches the year on the Viewing Wheel.
  6. Cutting out the Moon Phases Wheel, Moonset and Moonrise Panels, and Viewing Wheel along the dotted lines. There should be five pieces once everything is cut out.

    Cut it out. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  7. Students should use a hole punch to create the hole for the “view from space” on the Viewing Wheel.
  8. Using a hole punch to create a hole where it says View from space on the Viewing Wheel.

    Punch a hole. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  9. Students will attach the Moonset and Moonrise Panels to the Viewing Wheel where indicated on the back using tape.
  10. Tapping the Moonrise and Moonset panels to the back of the Viewing Wheel.

    Tape it. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  11. Using a pencil, students will poke a guide hole in the center of all three wheels.
  12. Using a pencil to poke a guide hole in the center of all three wheels.

    Poke a hole. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  13. Next, students should assemble the Moon Phases Calendar and Calculator by placing the Moon Phases Wheel on top of the Calendar Wheel, then the Viewing Wheel on the very top. They should use the brass fastener (or another fastener) to connect all three wheels in the center.
  14. Stacking the Viewing Wheel on top of the Moon Phases Wheel and then both of those on the Calendar wheel and placing a brass fastener through the guide hole.

    Put it together. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  15. Have students use their calendars to identify the phase, rise time and set time for a date you choose.

    On the Calendar Wheel, students should identify the moon phase that will be visible on the selected date. Students should then turn the Moon Phases Wheel until that moon phase matches the moon phase they identified on the Calendar Wheel. Use the “view on Earth” pointer to line up the two matching phases. (Note: The Calendar Wheel shows the dates when moon phases occur in the Pacific Time Zone.)
  16. Rotating the wheels as described to find out when and where to see the phases of the Moon throughout the year.

    Try it out! Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech | + Expand image

  17. Students should then center these matched phases above the “S” on the viewing window. The time shown is when that phase is visible while facing south. That phase rises in the eastern sky at the time shown in the window by the “E” and sets in the western sky at the time shown in the window by the “W.”
  18. Now, have students pick a date for which they would like to know what moon phase will be visible and repeat the process to find the moonrise and moonset times. Then ask them to find the same information for a date a few days later. Next ask them to predict what phase, as well as moonrise and moonset times they should expect to see on a date several days after that.

Watch the Tutorial

Watch en Español: Seleccione subtítulos en Español bajo el ícono de configuración.

In this episode of Learning Space, you'll learn how to make a calendar that shows you when and where to spot the Moon for every day of the year! | Watch on YouTube

Discussion

Ask students what patterns they notice about the phases of the Moon and when it rises.

Assessment

Students should demonstrate the ability to identify the phase of the Moon, what time it rises, what time it is overhead, and what time it sets for any given date of the year.

Extensions

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