Quick! Do you know what phase the moon is in, without looking?
Now that the days are so short, we have less time to spend outside in the sunshine. But, that also means we have more time to spend with the night sky! When we’re children, we’re naturally fascinated by space — by the vastness of it, by the stars, the planets and black holes.
The moon also captures our attention. Where did it come from? Why does it look like that? Kids love to ponder these questions. Here are a few ways to learn about the moon with little ones.
Where did the moon come from? The truth is, science does not have a certain answer. Most scientists who study this support the idea that the moon was formed when something the size of the planet Mars crashed into the Earth. This crash sent pieces of the Earth flying into space, and some of it eventually stuck together to form the moon. However, there are many other theories as well, and research continues. (Perhaps one of the children reading this will become the scientist that figures out the answer!)
Many planets have their own moons. Our moon is only the fifth-largest in our solar system. It orbits the earth every 27.3 days, and we always see the same side of it. This is because it rotates once on its access in the same length of time it takes to go around the earth. Gravity on the moon is only one-fifth as strong as on earth.
Why does the moon look the way it does? The moon is covered in craters. Do this simple experiment to illustrate where the craters came from. You’ll need flour (about 4 cups), ½ cup of baby oil, a few pebbles and rocks, and a round cake pan. Mix up the flour and baby oil and press it into the cake pan. Make sure the surface is smooth to represent the way the moon looked before it got its craters. Place the pan on the ground and have kids drop the pebbles and rocks onto it from above. They can even stand on a chair to see how different heights affect crater size. Then, remove your rocks and observe your craters.
As you can see, meteors — rocks flying in space and hitting the moon — are what caused the craters in the moon. This happens on earth as well, although most meteors burn up before they hit the ground. (Ask your kids why they think this happens.) And when they do hit the ground and create a crater, that crater is often worn away by erosion caused by wind, water and plants.
Create your own moon chart. Every few nights, have your kids observe the moon and record its phase. You can make your own chart, or print off a handy moon chart at sciencenetlinks.com. Turn this into a beautiful art project to hang on your wall by using colored markers, paint or colored paper to show the different phases.
Visit your local library to read more about the moon. Of course, there’s always “Goodnight Moon” by Margaret Wise Brown and Clement Hurd. I recommend “The Moon Book” by Gail Gibbons, which is educational but also entertaining, and “The Moon’s Almost Here” by Patricia MacLachlan and illustrated by Tomie dePaola, a story for younger audiences.