Q:

What is the purpose of the moon?

A:

The gravitational pull of the moon controls the rise and fall of tides on Earth and slows the planet's rotation, while the phases of the moon serve as calendar markers for human beings. High tides occur on the portion of the Earth closest to the moon and the portion farthest away. Low tides occur between those two points.

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The moon's pull slows the Earth's rotation in what astronomers describe as tidal braking. This effect adds 2.3 milliseconds to the length of a full day each century. As it collects energy from the Earth, the moon moves further away from the planet at a distance of 3.8 centimeters per year.

The lunar calendar is based on the time that elapses between full moons. For centuries, many civilizations acknowledged that the moon's cycles influence everything from the female menstrual cycle to planting and harvesting times for crops.

Over the years, many have claimed that there is a correlation between full moons and erratic or aggressive human behavior. However, studies on the subject have found no connection between the two.

As human beings transitioned from rural, agriculture-based lifestyles to more urban lifestyles, they have, as a group, grown increasingly unaware of the cycles of the moon.

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Related Questions

  • Q:

    Why do we see the phases of the moon?

    A:

    The lunar phases are caused by the changing angles of the sun, the moon and Earth, as the moon revolves around Earth. Different amounts of the illuminated part of the moon are visible from Earth. The lunar phases include the new moon, first quarter, full moon, third quarter, crescent and gibbous.

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  • Q:

    Why are we able to see different phases of the moon?

    A:

    The moon orbits around the Earth on a 29 day cycle. Half of the moon is always lit by the sun's rays but different amounts of this illumination can be seen from Earth depending on the angle the moon makes with the sun relative to the Earth.

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  • Q:

    What causes moon phases?

    A:

    Moon phases are caused by the motions of the Earth and moon as they relate to the sun. Phases occur as the Earth-facing side of the moon changes over the course of 29.5 days when the moon revolves around the planet. When the angle of sunlight reflecting off the moon changes, humans observe different lighting levels from the moon.

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  • Q:

    Why does it take the moon 29.5 days to go through its phases, but only 27.5 days to make a complete revolution?

    A:

    The moon completes one orbit around Earth with respect to the distant stars every 27.5 days. This constitutes a sidereal month. In contrast, the lunar cycle of 29.5 days is called a synodic month. It takes the moon an additional 2 days to begin a new lunar cycle because Earth is not stationary in space, but instead moves as it orbits the Sun.

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