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Moon Talk
By Laura G. Smith
  

1     It's the earth's only natural satellite-a glowing globe that appears in the night sky capturing the attention of all who gaze in its direction. Although the earth's moon seems to be "shining" its own light, it is really reflecting light from the sun. Some nights the moon looks like a huge, round, shiny ball, and other nights it appears as just a thin sliver of light. Although the moon seems to be changing shapes, it really isn't. It just looks different because it is reflecting varying amounts of sunlight during each of its phases.
 
2     The phases are caused by the continuous movement of the earth and its moon. The earth is constantly "revolving" or traveling in an oval shape around the sun. The path it travels is referred to as its orbit. As the earth is orbiting the sun, the moon is orbiting the earth. The moon moves at an amazing average speed of about 2,300 miles per hour! As the earth and moon revolve, different amounts of sunlight are reflected to the earth, causing the moon to change in appearance (ranging from a "new moon" to a waning crescent").
 
3     It takes the moon one month to travel one time around the earth passing through a complete cycle of its phases. In ancient times, before calendars were used, people looked at the phases of the moon to measure weeks and months. They knew that four weeks passed between one full moon and the next.
 
4     Sometimes, as the moon circles the earth, it passes directly between the earth and the sun. This causes a solar eclipse, which blocks our view of the sun for a short while. Another type of eclipse is a lunar eclipse. This occurs when the earth passes directly between the sun and the moon briefly blocking out the moon. Before scientists were able to learn what causes eclipses, people were frightened by them and feared the world was coming to an end!
 
5     An Italian astronomer named Galileo made great discoveries about the moon after he built his first telescope in 1609. Although he didn't actually invent the telescope, he developed and improved it. He was the first to realize that the moon's surface was mountainous and pitted, not smooth as others once thought. The deep pits, commonly known as craters, are the most numerous features of the moon's surface. The smaller craters were formed when meteoroids (solid objects traveling through space) collided with the moon. Scientists estimate that the moon has half a million craters that are more than one mile wide. These huge pits were more than likely caused by larger bodies such as comets or asteroids. Although the moon's mountains and pits are somewhat similar to features found on the surface of the earth, other characteristics of the moon are quite different from our home planet.

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