Lunar Observation Project

Lunar Observation Project



The Lunar Observation Project is the cornerstone project of this course and carries the most weight of any graded assignment (20% of your overall grade).  This is one project you want to do well on.  The objectives project are for you to become familiar with the phase cycle of the Moon, its varying positions in the sky, and its influence on the Earth's tides.  Many students say that the hardest part to doing this project is starting.  Before you can begin, you need to know when the Moon will be visible (if it has not yet risen, you will not be able to see it no matter how hard you try!).  A very good source for this information is  From this website, you can specify your viewing location and month(s) for observing.  A sample of the information available from this website is shown to the right.

 The lunar observation project is worth a total possible 200 points and is comprised of FIVE distinct parts.  You must submit evidence of doing each part to receive full credit.  Whenever you use outside information, you must cite your source (just as you would in an English or Humanities course).  The only difference with this project is that all you have to do is list the URLs of any websites that you use.  The Lunar Observation Project is due as noted in the syllabus.  It must be submitted via the D2L Dropbox in an approved format.  If you don’t have access to the scanner at home, either use one at the college, or take digital photographs (jpeg format) and submit them.


Part I - Observational Data 60 points
Part II - Tidal Differences Table & Graph 40 points
Part III – Analysis of Lunar Phases & Tides 40 points
Part IV – Application of Knowledge 40 points
Part V - Reflection 20 points
Total Possible 200 points


20 point BONUS if turned at least one week early (as noted in the syllabus)

Part I.  Lunar Observation. (60 Points)

Observe the Moon approximately every other day for one full month.  Weather permitting, you should have between 14-16 observations to successfully complete this project.   

Common misconceptions:

·         YOU DO NOT have to observe at the same time each day, nor the same number of hours since Moonrise. 

·         YOU DO NOT have to get up in the middle of the night just to observe the Moon.  If you plan your observing times based on the scheduled Moonrise and Moonset times, this will have minimal impact on your lifestyle.  

 ·         YOU DO NOT have observe from the same location everytime.  However, it is very important that you know which direction is North (and thus you should be able to identify East, South, and West).  If you are terrible telling direction, either get a small handheld compass or download a compass app for your smartphone.

 ·         YOU DO NOT have to start at a particular lunar phase.  You can start at any lunar phase but must record data for a full month (30 days).

Record the following information for each observation. A sample data collection sheet is provided. You must submit your observational data sheets with your final project.

  • Date (the date of each observation)
  • Time of Moonrise (specify a.m. or p.m.)
  • Time of Moonset (specify a.m. or p.m.)
  • Time of Observation (specify a.m. or p.m.) (must be between Moonrise and Moonset)
  • Hours since Moonrise (subtract the Moonrise time from your Time of Observation)
  • Viewing Location (your location when you viewed the Moon)
  • A sketch of the Moon as it appears in the sky
  • The phase of the Moon (specify the proper phase name – such as waxing crescent, waning gibbous, full, etc.)
  • Where does the Moon appear overhead in the sky (this will be a location between East, overhead, and West – just put a dot on the arc in the diagram)
  • Where does the Moon appear horizontally in the sky (this will be a location on the compass rose (somewhere between North, East, South, and West – just put a dot on the circle in the diagram)
  • Observation comments (sky conditions, weather, interesting star formations, etc.)
  • Tidal Information (here is where you need to refer to outside information.  Record the highest high tide, lowest low tide, and difference between them)

Example of Lunar Observation Data


Date Sept 25, 2009
Time of Moonrise* 9:19 p.m.
Time of Moonset* 4:32 a.m.
Time of observation 11:35 p.m.
Hours since Moonrise 2.25 hours
Viewing Location Sebring – my backyard
Sketch of Moon as observed    

Phase of the Moon
Wanning Gibbous
Where does the Moon appear overhead in the sky?        
Where does the Moon appear horizontally in the sky?

Observation Comments
  The sky was clear and full of stars.  A wonderful evening to star gaze!  
Highest High Tide* +1.9 ft
Lowest Low Tide* - 0.3 ft
Tidal Difference +2.2 ft


Part II.  Tidal Difference. (40 Points)

Based on the data you get from a tide calendar, a  newspaper, the Internet, or other source (be sure to cite your source), you are to compute and submit the following:

  1. Tidal Difference Table (the difference between the highest high tide and the lowest low tide)

Example Tidal Differences Table


Tidal Differences Table - Anna Maria
Date Highest High Tide (feet) Lowest Low Tide (feet) Difference (feet) Moon Phase
2/7/06 +1.7 +0.3 +1.4 Waxing Crescent
2/9/06 +2.0 +0.3 +1.7 First Quarter
2/11/06 +0.9 +0.2 +0.7 Waxing Gibbous
2/13/06 +2.5 0.0 +2.5 Waxing Gibbous
2/15/06 +2.7 -0.1 +2.8 Waxing Gibbous
2/16/06 +2.8 0.0 +2.8 Full Moon
2/17/06 +2.7 0.0 +2.7 Waning Gibbous
2/19/06 +2.3 +0.1 +2.2 Waning Gibbous
2/21/06 +2.0 +0.1 +1.9 Waning Gibbous
2/23/06 +2.3 +0.1 +2.2 Third Quarter
2/25/06 +2.5 +0.1 +2.4 Waning Crescent
2/27/06 +2.5 0.0 +2.5 Waning Crescent
3/02/06 +2.3 +0.1 +2.2 New Moon
3/03/06 +2.2 +0.2 +2.0 Waxing Crescent
3/05/06 +1.8 +0.2 +1.6 Waxing Crescent
3/07/06 +1.9 +0.3 +0.6 Waxing Crescent



  1. Tidal Difference Graph (a graph of your tidal difference values along with Moon phases) Be sure you label the four major Lunar phases.

Example Tidal Differences Graph

Several good web links are listed in the syllabus to help you obtain this information.  You must ensure that you get this information as you start your project as many websites do not contain historical tidal predications – only future predictions.  The tidal difference you want to record for your project is the difference between the highest high tide and the lowest low tide.  Note:  Be sure you do your math calculations correctly especially when the lowest low tide is a negative tide (see example below).


Example for 2/15/06 First low tide:  -0.1 ft at 12:03 a.m. First high tide:  +1.3 ft at 5:54 a.m. Second low tide:  +0.4 ft at 11:21 a.m. Second high tide:  +2.7 ft at 5:50 p.m.        
In this exampleThe highest high tide is +2.7 ft and the lowest low tide is -0.1 ft so the Tidal difference = +2.7 – (-0.1) = +2.8 ft


You can complete this easily with a spreadsheet program (Microsoft Excel) but it is perfectly okay to hand draw your graph.  Be sure you label both axes and indicate on your graph the phase of the Moon at points where you data peaks.  I have provided step-by-step instructions on D2L describing how to make a graph in Microsoft Excel (both 2007 and 2010 versions), should you need assistance. 


Part III.   Analysis of Lunar Phases and Tides. (40 Points).

By analyzing your data, you are to submit the following:


  1. Lunar Phase Analysis (20 points) Discuss the general patterns you notice based on your observational data for each of the following:
    • Phases of the Moon
    • Times for Moonrise and Moonset
    • Location of the Moon in the sky (based on the hours since Moonrise)


  1. Tidal Correlation Analysis (20 points).  Discuss the correlation you notice between the phase cycle of the Moon and the tides based on your observational data (refer to your tidal difference table and graph from Part II).


Part IV. Application of Knowledge (40 points).

Using the data you have collected and analyzed in the previous three sections, you are to apply this knowledge to three distinct situations:

 a.    Lunar Myth Buster (20 Points). Find a myth about the Moon.  Then research it on a credible website or devise a logical experiment to test the validity of that myth to determine if it is true or not.


Myth – The Moon is made of cheese

Myth Buster –  FALSE.  During the six Apollo lunar excursions 2,415 samples of lunar rocks weighing 382 kg (842 lb) were collected and brought back to Earth.  All samples were found to be made of minerals not cheese!    


b.    Fishermen and Lunar Phases. (20 points)  Discuss why knowledge of the Moon’s phases can be very important to fishermen.  Be sure you state which lunar phase(s) are the best to go fishing and why.  Hint: look online or go talk with an experienced fisherman.


Part V.  Reflection (20 Points).

The final portion of your project.  Now it is time to look back over all that you have done on this project and respond to the following three questions:

·         Discuss what you learned from this project

·         Discuss what you liked and what you disliked about this project

·         List any recommendations to improve this project



  You now should know far more about the Moon than most of your friends and neighbors!  Be sure you submit this project in the appropriate D2L Dropbox prior to the due date.

Part I     Lunar Observation Data Sheet                 Page:       of          


Time of Moonrise*        
Time of Moonset*        
Time of observation        
Hours since Moonrise**        
Viewing Location        
What does the Moon look like?    
Phase of the Moon        
Where does the Moon appear overhead in the sky?        
Where does the Moon appear horizontally in the sky?

Observation Comments              
Highest High Tide*        
Lowest Low Tide*        
Tidal Difference**        

* This information can be found on the Internet – be sure to record it each day you do your observation!                  

**You calculate these quantities

Return to top