Wax off! (A lunar epiphany)

A couple of years ago, I had a minor epiphany about the Moon. I wrote a post about it at the time, called ‘How to tell at a glance if the Moon is waxing or waning‘. Since then, when I’ve seen the Moon in its not-full phase, I’ve used my ‘wax on/ wax off’ rule (as described in that post) to determine whether it’s waxing or waning.

And in all that time, I can only remember ever thinking, “Ah, wax on!”. I can’t recall ever thinking, “Ah, wax off!”.

… until this morning, that is:

It’s not easy to see, but the Moon is up there….

The Sun was coming up — and I suddenly realised why it was that I hadn’t seen a ‘wax off’ before. A waxing moon is on that part of its monthly cycle when it’s heading away from the Sun… and so it’s easy to spot, at night. When the Moon is waning, it’s on the Sun-ward side of the Earth, which means that, when it’s above the horizon, it’s more likely to be competing with the Sun, and so it’s not so easy to see.

… at least, I think that’s right. Assuming that it is, it’s entirely possible that you may be thinking, “Well, duh!” If so, please cut me a bit of slack; it’s taken me over half a century to figure it out on my own :)

Header image adapted from
white round shape on black background
by Mason Kimbarovsky on Unsplash

About pendantry

Phlyarologist (part-time) and pendant. Campaigner for action against anthropogenic global warming (AGW) and injustice in all its forms. Humanist, atheist, notoftenpist. Wannabe poet, writer and astronaut.
This entry was posted in ... wait, what?, Communication, Education, memetics, Science and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Wax off! (A lunar epiphany)

  1. Tom says:

    So, left wax right wane. That sounds like a tongue-twister, so it should be easy to remember. If the Moon isn’t Full or New, the other phases baffle me! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  2. leavergirl says:

    In Czech, we have a mnemonic — D for growing (dorusta), C for backs off (couva)… :-) Too bad it does not work in English.
    What boggled my mind when I moved to Colorado is… when the moon is just a sliver, you can see the shadow of the full moon just above it, on some days. I am not sure why I never noticed at lower elevations. And the idiots who write school textbooks told us that the ancients had no idea the moon was permanently round. Bah.

    Liked by 2 people

    • pendantry says:

      ‘D’ for ‘develop’; ‘C’ for ‘contract’, perhaps? That works :)

      As for the ability to see a shadow of a full moon when only a sliver of it is lit… yes, I’ve experienced that, too. But I suspect that may just be an illusion; a case of the brain filling in gaps that it knows are there, in the same way that we (believe we) ‘see’ faces everywhere.


      • leavergirl says:

        Yeah, that would work! Maybe it will catch on… :-)

        Shadow moon is not the way the brain would fake it. If it were faked, I presume the brain would fill in the round moon seamlessly with the sliver. But it does not. I see it displaced somewhat, exactly how some Egyptian artwork pictures it.
        Look at the center image, in lapis lazuli, and then two images below.


        • leavergirl says:

          Oops, sorry about all the baboons. If you look through them, you will see the sliver plus full moon above, not quite contiguous with the sliver.


          • pendantry says:

            Shadow moon is not the way the brain would fake it.

            You seem very certain of that. I’m not an expert in visual perception (are you?), but I am very aware that our minds play tricks on us. I also think we’re all different; just because you may see it ‘displaced somewhat’ doesn’t mean that I do.

            As for the ‘baboons’; I’m not clear on which image you’re referring to. I visited that Pinterest page and wasn’t able to see one that might be relevant… I’ve not been there often, and am unlikely to return there anytime soon; I found the site’s insistence that I ‘log in or sign up’ thoroughly irritating, and it convinced me not to bother.


          • leavergirl says:

            I am an expert on my own perception, and I find it interesting that the ancients saw it so too. That’s all. :-)
            Look at the above graphics. The middle baboon has a displaced moon on top of the crescent. I have seen it in Mesopotamian art too. This pic is not the best. Let’s see if I can find a better one… this one?
            I think this explains what I mean.


          • pendantry says:

            OK, I see what you mean, now. All I can say is that when I see a ‘sliver moon’ and have the impression that I can see a full circle, that’s not the way I perceive it to be; and I’m convinced it’s just the mind filling in the blanks (a subject that has long fascinated me, as you can see from searching for ‘illusion’ here).


  3. I’m not going to focus on the science aspect of it. Instead, I will say that you have a beautiful view!

    Liked by 1 person

    • pendantry says:

      I’ll take that as a compliment on my snapshot — thank you. As is often the case, a great deal of it is down to a matter of perspective, and the angle at which one looks at things.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve been trying to figure out the moon phases for years myself. Not only the waxing and waning (which I think I have down but only because I try to follow the moon every day/night). Then there is gibbous, half and crescent. I tend to see the waning crescent at sunrise and the waxing gibbous just after sunset. I think I feel more grounded when I actually see the moon, but sometimes I don’t (because of clouds or whatever) and that’s when I tend to see the moon in my dreams.!

    Your photo is quite lovely.

    Liked by 1 person

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