Moon / Planetary Science / Space Exploration

Magical, Mystery Moon

A man in the moon, cows jumping over the moon, the moon is made of cheese. Oh, the things children hear about the moon.

The moon is the most apparent object in the night sky. It is easy for children to see, at least for part of the lunar cycle. And then it disappears, giving it an air of mystery. Exploring the moon is a great introduction to planetary science and just great fun.




How come I can see the moon sometimes and not at other times?


Why does the moon change its shape?


What is the moon made of?




Where did it come from?


Does it go around any other planets?


Is there life on the moon?


Have humans been to the moon?


What is a blue moon, a harvest moon, a blood moon?





We are in the middle of winter so the moon is likely to be out and visible before an early bedtime. Take a look at the moon, either through a window from the comfort of a warm room (with the lights turned off the moon might be easier to see), or venturing outside.


Ask your child to draw what he sees, or talk it through, finding words to describe this object in outer space.


If you have a telescope or even binoculars to look through how lucky! Look at different parts of the moon up close, scanning the surface. Again, suggest that your child sketch or talk through what she is seeing.




We have a shop nearby that sells telescopes and holds free sessions some nights. Check out whether or not you have this option in your neighborhood. Otherwise, you may have a planetarium, university or another group that holds viewing sessions every so often allowing children to look through powerful telescopes.


If none of these options are available, as you can imagine there are terrific resources on-line that you can share with your child.


Here is a great site to share with your child, but you might want to wait until after she has had a chance to observe the real thing and form her own impressions of the lunar surface. Again, maybe let her think about what the moon is like prior to overwhelming with too much precise information too early.




Does the moon look different if it is raining or snowing here on earth (there is no weather on the moon, see below)?




Compare and Contrast

If you and your child have taken a look at the moon over several different evenings, he should have noticed that its shape changes. It is sometimes full, sometimes only a half or a sliver, and at other times, not visible at all in the sky. The moon waxes and wanes (lovely poetic description). Suggest that your child keeps a moon journal, recording its shape every night for a full month. Or 29 days 12 hours and 44 minutes to be precise as this is the length of the phases of the moon. Maybe look at the moon at about the same time each night. If you want, your child can look on-line when the moon rises or sets.  Here is a site that will provide that information (http://www.timeanddate.com/moon/). Type in your zip code to figure out the exact times. During each phase, the moon will rise at a different time. (You may miss a few nights if the weather is rainy or cloudy, as the clouds will make viewing difficult.)


Compare the shapes your child drew with a chart or diagram of the phases of the moon. These will also provide the labels for those varying shapes.


Phases of the moon diagram.




I have seen a great version of creating the phases of the moon by halving Oreo cookies and eating a portion of the cream center to represent the phases. So in other words, don’t eat any of the cream in the center for a full moon. For the remaining phases eat as much as necessary so long as the remaining portion looks like ¾, ½, or ¼ moon.


We can see the moon, or it looks white, because light from the sun reflects off of the surface of the moon and travels back to our eyes allowing us to see it.


The moon orbits around the earth. The length of the orbit is 27 days, 7 hours and 43 minutes. What does the earth orbit around (the sun)? Earth’s orbit around the sun takes 365.256 days!


Compare earth’s moon to the moons of other planets. Here is a great site that lists all of the 182 moons orbiting planets in our solar system. Worth exploring!






What is the difference between a moon and a planet? A moon orbits a planet, and a planet orbits a star.


Compare the moon’s origin to the earth’s origin or creation. There are different theories about the moon’s origin, but one suggests that a massive meteor struck the earth, and a piece broke off. That piece then fell into orbit around the earth, unable to resist earth’s gravity. A second theory proposes that the moon developed independently in space, but was “captured” by the earth’s gravity and has been orbiting around our planet ever since.


The first NASA mission to land on the moon was Apollo 11. There were seven missions involving lunar landings (or almost landings) in all. You can find information on all the missions on any number of websites, including information about the non-manned missions before actually landing astronauts on the moon. Depending on your child’s interest level, you can find a ton of facts about each mission comparing where on the moon they landed, the length of the mission, the length of the moonwalk, and the names of the astronauts and modules. Here is a good place to start to explore these missions:






Interesting fact: Every time you see the moon the surface pattern looks the same that it has through history because the same side of the moon is always facing the earth. We on earth can never see the dark side of the moon directly. But here are images from the dark side, if your child would like to see it and compare the two sides of the moon:





Consider these numbers:


The moon travels at 2000 miles an hour around the earth.


Gravity on the moon is about one-sixth of what it is on earth. So something falls six times faster on earth.


The diameter of the moon is 2,160 miles. Can you find a comparative distance on earth? Perhaps examine an atlas of the US, from your home, what other cities or states, or park or area of interest, are approximately 2000 miles away?




When you see a full moon rising over the horizon, it can look really big. When you see it directly overhead, it looks smaller. Ask your child if the moon changes size? The answer is no, it is just that when the moon is low on the horizon, the atmosphere seems to distort its size making it appear much larger. Can you figure out a way to compare the two moons, or the one on the horizon and the other one up above? Try holding objects in your hands, holding them up next to the moon for comparison. Hold the same object at the same distance from your body while looking at the moon at different points in the sky. Does it’s relative size change?




A calendar and a clock can be used to understand how long the Apollo 11 lunar mission was. This was the first moonwalk mission. The entire mission was 8 days, 3 hours, 18 minutes and 35 seconds. Two astronauts were on the moon for six hours. Can you and your child find ways to represent this time period?



Create a lunar eclipse. Have you seen a lunar eclipse? The moon must be full for a lunar eclipse. It is a fascinating event that only happens when the earth orbits between the moon and the sun, thus casting a shadow on the moon. When this happens, the moon darkens and takes on an orange hue. The color is less about what is happening to the moon than the atmosphere that we are viewing it through. The atmosphere acts as a lens, bending red light and scattering the blue.


During a solar (versus lunar) eclipse, the moon’s orbit comes between the earth and the sun.




Create a lunar eclipse with a flashlight and two balls, one bigger than the other. (Styrofoam balls purchased at a craft store can be placed on a stick, thus making this easier). For the best effect, wrap the smallest ball in aluminum foil. You and your child will need a third person to help with this, so ask another parent, a sibling, or a friend. If using regular balls (soccer, baseball, golf or ping pong will work), the individual holding the moon, or the smallest ball, will have to hold it over their head and stay out of the way of the light. Stand in a line with the flashlight or lamp representing the sun, the earth in the middle about 3 feet away, and the moon in line, a couple of inches from the earth. Ideally, the moon would be approximately the distance from the earth equal to 30 X the diameter of the earth. The sun/lamp would be 400 times further away. Replicating these real distances is probably not going to happen, but have your child experiment with distances to achieve the best effect. Turn the flashlight or lamp on, and your child should detect a shadow on the moon (the earth’s shadow is called umbra). Move the moon around as though orbiting the earth. Can the “sun’s light” find a way to reflect on the moon? Does the moon create its own light? (NO).



When describing the surface of the moon, did your child identify spots or areas that were a distinctly different color? The moon’s surface is covered with craters that give the impression of polka dots. Large asteroids and smaller meteoroids that are hurdling through space and then crash into the surface of the moon are responsible for creating those craters. Asteroids and meteoroids are plentiful in space. When meteoroids enter the earth’s atmosphere they are called meteors.  Most vaporize but some make it all the way through and have hit the earth’s surface. The moon has no atmosphere, so asteroids and meteoroids hit the moon at high impact and leave scars.


To see asteroids visit the site recommended above and zoom in on what looks like a crater for a closer look. Here is that site again.




Here is a portion of the moon’s surface with a ton of craters!




Create your own approximation of asteroids hitting the moon’s surface. With sand or mud as a stand in for the moon’s surface (place sand or mud in a container), drop/throw larger pebbles or stones at the surface. What happens when the pebble/stone is removed? There should be an indentation. If not, then throw it harder or find a bigger rock. Drop/throw from different heights or as suggested use stones of different weights. Which leave behind the largest craters? The smallest craters?




Fun fact: Because the moon does not have an atmosphere it also has no weather! There is no wind or rain. When our astronauts first walked on the moon (in 1969), they left footprints that are still visible because there is no weather to blow that dirt away or rain to wash it away. They also planted an American flag on the lunar surface. The flag was created to look like it is waving in the wind, but again, there is no wind on the moon!




When our astronauts landed on the moon, they had several assignments that they were supposed to complete during the short time they were there. One mission was to collect samples of rocks and soils so that scientists on earth could study the moon’s geology. As part of that first mission, the Apollo 11 astronauts collected 47.5 pounds of rocks and soil samples. The Astronauts who followed the first pair to walk on the moon continued collecting rocks and samples, resulting in 843 pounds of moon material!


From these samples, it has been learned that, like earth, there were active volcanoes on the lunar surface. It also has a core that is like the earth’s or made of magma. If you have that rock collection we keep suggesting, take a look at rocks from magma.





Explore the moon in mythology. The moon is often referred to as Luna. Luna was the Roman god of the moon. In Greek mythology, Artemis was the moon goddess. (She was busy as she was also the goddess of the hunt, of archery, and the forests). Make up your own stories or myths about the moon.


What animals respond to the moon? Here are some interesting descriptions of animal behavior impacted by the lunar cycle:





There are a variety of interesting names for the moon. Look some up, but here are examples


The Algonquin Native American tribe of New England referred to the moon in November as the Harvest or Beaver moon. The Harvest moon makes sense as the tribe would most likely be completing harvesting and storing plants for the winter months. The name Beaver moon refers to the fact that November was the time to set beaver traps before the beaver ponds would freeze. Trapping beavers insured furs to keep warm during the winter months. The moon in June was referred to as the Strawberry moon. Invite your child to think of a good name for the moon during different months of the year?


A Blue moon refers to the phenomena of when a full moon appears twice in the same month, or at the beginning and the end. Remember its orbit is 29 days, making this possible, but this is still a relatively rare event.
With your child look for the “Man in the Moon.” Does he see a face? Use your imaginations and look for other things. What do you see? The Ancient Chinese thought they saw a rabbit or toad.


Read about the astronauts who went to the moon and their adventure. There are several good books that you can find at a library.


Explore what it takes to become an astronaut. Here is a list from NASA of qualifications:


A four-year Bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science or mathematics; a Master’s or Doctorate (Ph.D.) is desirable • At least three years of professional experience related to your college degree • Ability to pass a NASA space physical, including: Eyesight: 20/20 or better uncorrected, 20/20 corrected (with glasses or contacts) Blood pressure: no higher than 140/90 (measured in a sitting position) Height: between 58.5 and 76 inches.

To be a pilot astronaut, you also need:

• At least 1,000 hours of pilot-in-command flying time in a jet aircraft

• Height between 64 and 76 inches.


Make a list of what you would take on a trip to the moon. Ask other people what they would pack for a voyage and visit to the moon. Compare lists. What is the funniest thing? What seems like the most practical or useful thing to take?




Lunar surface


Moon phases


Waxes and wanes









Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *