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When the Moon Is Full (Or Seems to Be)

Last month's interest in goblins and ghouls has faded, but you can spice up November classroom and family science discussions with a blend of astronomy and a fitting 'trick' of the eye in preparation for this month's full moon!


From astronomy projects to tests of human perception, the changing faces of the moon invites student science exploration.

Students curious about the full moon illusion can learn more about afterimages in the "Are Your Eyes Playing Tricks on You? Discover the Science Behind Afterimages!" Project Idea. For classroom exploration, the "Discovering the Colors Behind Afterimages" classroom activity guides teachers in preparing a fun, short, hands-on science project.

Part of a classic formula for a spooky Halloween story is the presence of a bright and luminous full moon, a glowing orb sure to call to werewolves and other creatures knocking door to door in search of sweet treats. While the moon was not entirely full for Halloween this year, it was close. According to lunar charts for 2012, the full moon for October was on October 29th, a few days ahead of trick or treaters. Just two days off of its fullest point, if there were clear skies in your area, your costume-enshrouded students may have tricked and treated by the light of a pretty bright moon.

The Night Sky

How bright is the moon when it is full? How much does the moon's brightness vary during its different phases? As November's moon cycles through the phases, these are questions young astronomers can put to the test! The "Measuring the Moon" astronomy Project Idea guides students in observing the moon throughout the month and recording light meter readings. Using this data, students can make correlations between phases of the moon and its brightness.

Lunar Illusion

The "Measuring the Moon" project helps encourage students to gather and synthesize firsthand data to learn more about the moon. The "I See a Full Moon Rising...and Shrinking...or Do I?" Project Idea, on the other hand, prompts an exploration of the way we perceive the moon as it appears to climb into the night sky. This Health & Human Biology Project Idea helps students investigate the way the brain miscalculates the size of the moon in different locations, a trick of the mind which leads to the full moon illusion. In this project, students learn more about afterimages and Emmert's law. With a series of hands-on tests, students can put Emmert's law in motion as they investigate how the perceived size of an afterimage changes in relation to one's distance from the viewing surface.

Making Connections

Just weeks after Hurricane Sandy, the after-effects of the monstrous tropical storm that swept across Eastern states are still making headline news. While many things contributed to the storm's ferocity, the storm also approached land during a full moon. Which phase of the moon has the most powerful effect on tidal patterns? Using historical data, your students can find out in the "The Moon and Tides" astronomy Project Idea. For other suggestions for student science projects related to Hurricane Sandy, see the "Frankenstorm Science: Hurricane Sandy" blog post.

Science Buddies Project Ideas in Astronomy are sponsored by Northrop Grumman.

Science Buddies Project Ideas in Human Biology & Health are sponsored by the Medtronic Foundation.

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Your Science!
What will you explore for your science project this year? What is your favorite classroom science activity? Email us a short (one to three sentences) summary of your science project or teaching tip. You might end up featured in an upcoming Science Buddies newsletter!

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