The International Space Station can be seen as a small object in upper left of this image of the moon in the early evening Jan. 4,2012 in the skies over the Houston area flying at an altitude of 390.8 kilometers (242.8 miles). The space station can occasionally be seen in the night sky with the naked eye and a pair of field binoculars. Image credit: NASA/Lauren Harnett

The moon regularly seems to disappear and then return. The waxing (increasing) and waning (decrease) in the Moon’s appearance to primitive peoples seemed to be similar to our own life and death cycle – and perhaps, to our rebirth.

Stories which associate the moon with the origin of death are found especially around the Pacific region. According to J. G. Frazer’s The Belief in Immortality and The Worship of the Dead, in Fiji, it is said that the moon suggested that mankind should return as he did. But the rat god, Ra Kalavo, would not permit this, insisting that men should die like rats.

In Australia, the Wotjobaluk aborigines say that the moon used to revive the dead until an old man said that this should stop.

The Cham have it that the goddess of good luck used to revive the dead but the sky-god sent her to the moon so she could not do this any more.

A waning Moon is sometimes considered an unlucky time for a marriage or birth.

In South Africa, it is considered unlucky to start a journey or begin any important work during the last quarter of the Moon.

In Cornwall, if a boy was born during a waning Moon, they said that the next birth would be a girl.

In Wales, if you moved from one house to another during the Crescent Moon you would have more than enough prosperity in your life.

We know now that the lunar phase of the moon is the appearance of the illuminated (lit) portion of the Moon as seen by an observer, usually on Earth. The lunar phases change cyclically as the Moon orbits the Earth, according to the changing relative positions of the Earth, Moon, and Sun.

One half of the lunar surface is always illuminated by the Sun (except during lunar eclipses), and hence is bright, but the portion of the illuminated hemisphere that is visible to an observer can vary from about 100% (full moon) to 0% (new moon).

There are names for the phases

Phase Northern Hemisphere Southern Hemisphere Visibility Standard time of
culmination (mid-phase)
New moon Not visible, traditionally Moon’s first visible crescent after sunset 12 noon
Waxing crescent moon Right 1–49% visible Left 1–49% visible afternoon and post-dusk 3 pm
First quarter moon Right 50% visible Left 50% visible afternoon and early night 6 pm
Waxing gibbous moon Right 51–99% visible Left 51–99% visible late afternoon and most of night 9 pm
Full moon Fully visible Fully visible sunset to sunrise (all night) 12 midnight
Waning gibbous moon Left 51–99% visible Right 51–99% visible most of night and early morning 3 am
Third quarter moon Left 50% visible Right 50% visible late night and morning 6 am
Waning crescent moon Left 1–49% visible Right 1–49% visible pre-dawn and morning 9 am
Dark moon Not visible, traditionally Moon’s last visible crescent before sunrise 12 noon