Planets and Moons 

Moon Phase and Libration, 2012


Month: Day: UT Hour:

The animation archived on this page shows the geocentric phase, libration, position angle of the axis, and apparent diameter of the Moon throughout the year 2012, at hourly intervals. Until the end of 2012, the initial Dial-A-Moon image will be the frame from this animation for the current hour.

More in this series: 2015 | 2015 South | 2014 | 2014 South | 2013 | 2013 South | 2011

The jagged, cratered, airless lunar terrain casts sharp shadows that clearly outline the Moon's surface features for observers on Earth. This is especially true near the terminator, the line between day and night, where surface features appear in high relief. Elevation measurements by the Lunar Orbiter Laser Altimeter (LOLA) aboard the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) make it possible to simulate shadows on the Moon's surface with unprecedented accuracy and detail.

The Moon always keeps the same face to us, but not exactly the same face. Because of the tilt and shape of its orbit, we see the Moon from slightly different angles over the course of a month. When a month is compressed into 12 seconds, as it is in this animation, our changing view of the Moon makes it look like it's wobbling. This wobble is called libration.

The word comes from the Latin for "balance scale" (as does the name of the zodiac constellation Libra) and refers to the way such a scale tips up and down on alternating sides. The sub-Earth point gives the amount of libration in longitude and latitude. The sub-Earth point is also the apparent center of the Moon's disk and the location on the Moon where the Earth is directly overhead.

The Moon is subject to other motions as well. It appears to roll back and forth around the sub-Earth point. The roll angle is given by the position angle of the axis, which is the angle of the Moon's north pole relative to celestial north. The Moon also approaches and recedes from us, appearing to grow and shrink. The two extremes, called perigee (near) and apogee (far), differ by more than 10%.

The most noticed monthly variation in the Moon's appearance is the cycle of phases, caused by the changing angle of the Sun as the Moon orbits the Earth. The cycle begins with the waxing (growing) crescent Moon visible in the west just after sunset. By first quarter, the Moon is high in the sky at sunset and sets around midnight. The full Moon rises at sunset and is high in the sky at midnight. The third quarter Moon is often surprisingly conspicuous in the daylit western sky long after sunrise.

Celestial north is up in these images, corresponding to the view from the northern hemisphere. The descriptions of the print resolution stills also assume a northern hemisphere orientation. To adjust for southern hemisphere views, rotate the images 180 degrees, and substitute "north" for "south" in the descriptions.

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Visualization Credits

Ernie Wright (USRA): Lead Animator
Chris Smith (HTSI): Producer
Richard Vondrak (NASA/GSFC): Scientist
Joycelyn Thomson Jones (NASA/GSFC): Project Support
Please give credit for this item to:
NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio

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LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter)

Data Used:
LRO/LOLA/Digital Elevation Map Aug 2009 to Sep 2011
Clementine Feb 26 to Apr 21 1994

This item is part of these series:
The Moon
LRO - Animations

SVS >> Clementine
SVS >> Elevation data
SVS >> Laser Altimeter
SVS >> Lunar
SVS >> Moon
SVS >> Hyperwall
SVS >> Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter
SVS >> Lunar Topography
SVS >> Lunar Elevation Map
SVS >> Solar System >> Moon >> Lunar Surface
NASA Science >> Planets and Moons
SVS >> Presentation