The solar system contains lots of mysteries, and this activity will help campers understand how and why the moon appears to change shape in the night sky.
About the Moon
Although it looks like to be changing each day, the moon doesn’t actually change shape. The changes we see are a result of the fact that the moon orbits around the Earth and the Earth orbits around the sun. The Earth casts a shadow on different parts of the moon depending on its position between the sun and the moon, resulting in us only seeing parts of the moon at different times. These parts are called phases of the moon – the different ways the moon looks when seen from Earth.
The moon makes a full rotation around the Earth once every 29.5 days, which means this cycle repeats every 29.5 days.
Another fun fact about the moon, is that despite appearing so bright in the night sky, the moon doesn’t actually emit its own light. Moonlight is the result of the sun’s light reflecting off of the surface of the moon.
And now let’s take a closer look at how this faraway moon appears to change. In this activity, we’ll model the phases of the moon from looking at the actual moon in the night sky. Let’s go space explorers!
- Black or dark blue paper
- White and grey coloured play-doh or modelling clay
- White pen or marker
- Small circular objects to create circles (small cookie cutter or bottle caps are recommended)
- Using only a small piece of white clay, flatten it out on a flat surface or table.
- Add a few small pieces of grey clay to the white, then roll it into a small ball.
- Once the two colours of clay are mixed together to resemble the colour of the moon, flatten it out again.
- Take your circular cutting object and cut out a circle from your clay.
- For this step you will need to wait for the night sky! Observe the moon and its shape very carefully. Is the moon a complete circle? Is it a crescent? Which way is the crescent facing? Are there craters? Where are they located? Sometimes the craters that we can see appear to form a face – that’s what we sometimes refer to as ‘the man in the moon’.
Re-create the moon! Using your circle of clay, mold the shape of the moon that you saw. To create craters, press into the clay with the eraser end of a pencil.
Once you have made your moon, place it in the top left corner of your paper. Write the date and time underneath it with the white pen or marker.
- Repeat the steps for the next night and place the new moon to the right of the previous one. Continue this process for a week or a month.
At the end of your experiment, what did you notice about the pattern of the moon? How did it change over time?