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Moons of our Solar System
Moons of our Solar System

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1.5 Looking at the Moon

As mentioned in Week 1, we observe the same side of the Moon at all times due to synchronous rotation in which the Moon takes almost the same amount of time to complete one rotation on its axis as it does to complete one orbit around the Earth. If the orbit of the Moon was completely circular around the Earth, we would only see exactly half of the Moon. In fact, the orbit is not completely circular: it is elliptical. This causes the Moon to be closer to the Earth at some points in its orbit than at other points. Because the orbit is elliptical, the Moon’s orbital speed is not the same all the way round. The result of the changing speed is that the Moon appears to wobble slightly during its orbit, a process known as libration. This libration allows us to see about 60% of the Moon’s surface, as demonstrated in the animation.

Download this video clip.Video player: week1_section2.10_phases_2018.mp4
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See also:

  • Moon phases and libration [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] . If you want to explore the Moon’s orbital relationship with the Earth more fully than in this video, you can find explanations and other videos at this link.
  • A tour of the Moon. This is a nice 5 minute video tour of some features on the Moon, using data from NASA's LRO (Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter).