When the sun goes down, the moon ‘comes up’. At least metaphorically. But even though the sun isn’t there to give us sunlight, the moon provides us with moonlight. The white glow of the moon is a lot more subtle and perhaps more angelic than that of the burning ball we call the sun. However, it’s important that the moon isn’t too bright; otherwise, how else would we sleep? Yep, the moon is the perfect little nightlight in the sky. But is it actually a light? In the sense that it produces its own light? Or is there something else up there in the cosmos that makes the moon bright? If so, how on earth, or should I say in space, does this work?
So, does the moon produce its own light? The moon does not produce its own light, and it has no way of doing so. Unlike the sun, which is a giant burning ball of gases that produces blinding rays of light, the moon is a large rock. It, therefore, cannot produce its own light. Instead, the sun produces the moon with its light. Up in the cosmos, the sunlight reflects off of the moon’s surface back onto earth, providing us with moonlight.
So you could say that it’s sunlit moonlight!
Let us now continue how this all works, including why the moon specifically glows and why it’s white in color, too.
How Does The Moon Produce Light?
The moon produces light by reflecting traveling rays of sunlight that bounce off its rocky surface.
So, the truth is out there for you all to know. The moon is not a light source as it does not produce its own light.
In that case, how does the moon produce light? Well, it does it by reflecting sunlight from, you guessed it, the sun.
The moon is a nonactive rock. Its nature as a nonactive rock is key to this discussion, so remember this fact because it will come in handy later on.
Because the moon is a nonactive rock, it cannot produce its own light, but it can reflect light emitted from a different source.
For the moon, that source is the sun.
If you haven’t noticed already, the sun is pretty damn bright. Its fantastic rays of light travel approximately 150 million kilometers to Earth to bless us with all their benefits.
From vitamin D to crop growth, the sun is our ally. Of course, that’s not to say that it isn’t dangerous, but that’s a discussion for another day.
Anyway, the point is that the sun’s rays travel a very, very long distance. And if they can reach Earth, you can bet that they can reach the moon.
These rays bounce off the rocky surface of the moon and reflect back down to Earth.
The moon is able to perform this fantastic reflection action because it is a nonactive rock.
Think about it this way. Have you ever seen sunlight catch a mirror? What happens to the mirror?
For a split moment whilst the run reflects, the mirror illuminates brilliantly!
This is what happens to the moon as well, except the quantity and strength of the rays are much larger, so the moon is able to reflect the sunlight much more powerfully and also for the entire night whilst it’s up in the sky.
Rather than being a light source, the moon is better described as a reflector!
Without any sunlight, the moon would not be able to light itself up, which means we sadly wouldn’t see it at all…
Moonlight is dependent on their being sunlight.
Why Does The Moon Not Have Its Own Light?
The moon doesn’t have its own light because it is a nonactive rock. Nothing is active on this rock, including any internal production of light.
We’re back to this nonactive rock stuff, you see.
The moon is a nonactive rock. By this, we mean, funnily enough, that it is nonactive. There is no activity on the moon.
It orbits the Earth, but other than that, it’s not actually doing a lot.
There’s no life on the moon, nor are there any water sources or light sources.
It is a big rock floating in space. A big nonactive rock floating in space.
An active rock, such as a meteorite, does emit its own light because it produces its own light.
We won’t talk about exactly how it produces its own light today, but what’s important is that it does produce its own light. That is because it is an active rock as opposed to a nonactive rock.
An active rock has the ability to emit its own light. A nonactive rock has the ability to reflect light off its surface from another external light source.
So it is down to the nature of the moon as a nonactive rock that it doesn’t have its own light.
In other words, there is no internal activity the moon conducts to produce its own light.
It basically steals all of the light it needs from the sun.
But then again, don’t we all?
Why Does The Moon Glow?
The moon glows because it creates an illusion by appearing as if it is emitting light when in actuality, it is reflecting light. The moon will glow brighter during different phases of the moon’s cycle.
Not only does the moon reflect sunlight to illuminate itself, but it also has a nice, claiming glow to its appearance in the night sky.
To understand this, we must remember that the light coming off the moon isn’t actually being emitted by the moon. It’s been reflected off the moon.
So, in a way, the light that we see on the moon is an illusion.
Also, it’s important to note that the sunlight bounces off the moon’s surface, an action that adds to the illusory glow of the moon.
How much the moon glows depends on the amount of light being reflected off of it.
You see, the moon goes through different phases. During some stages, less of the moon’s surface is available to reflect sunlight off it.
These phases are the ones where the moon is only visible as a crescent in the sky.
During the full moon phases, there’s much more moon surface available to chip in with the reflecting activities; the moon glows brighter during this stage.
Now, that’s all well and good. Getting to see the moon glow big and bright is a wonderful experience.
But there are some cons to it as well.
The more sunlight the moon reflects and the brighter it is, the harder it is to see other objects in the night sky.
This is because the night sky becomes lighter when the moon is brighter.
And as you telescope addicts will know, you need the sky to be as dark as possible to see as many different objects as possible.
So a full moon phase probably isn’t the best time to crack out the telescope. Even if you had the best one for moon viewing.
Why Is Moonlight White?
Moonlight is white because the naked eye perceives dimly reflected light as white.
If you look at the moon at night and you think it looks pink, then I would suggest you visit the opticians.
The moon, to pretty much everyone, looks white! Although sometimes it can look yellow. But most of the time, to most people, the moon appears white when we see it in the night sky.
Now, why does it look white?
Well, the truth is that even though the moon reflects sunlight, it’s actually quite a poor reflector of light as reflectors go.
It only does so well to glow in our night sky because it is fairly big.
As it is a poor reflector, the intensity of the light it reflects is quite low.
On Earth, with our naked eyes, we humans struggle to distinguish colors when the light is dim.
So what do our eyes do? They perceive the moon as white.
Well, here’s a plot twist. The moon’s actual color, if you didn’t know this already, isn’t white at all. Nor yellow.
The moon is only white and yellow to us because we see it when it reflects light. If it wasn’t reflecting light, we wouldn’t be able to see it at all.
Because the truth is that the moon is actually very dark; it’s a rock, after all.
The moon is actually dark grey in appearance without the presence of light bouncing off its surfaces.
But because of the limitations of the naked human eye, we don’t perceive any of this dark greyness. Instead, our eyes perceive the moon as white.
So, your moon has been found out. It doesn’t produce its light after all.
In fact, it does nothing. It simply orbits the earth, allowing the sun’s rays to bounce off its surface to fool everyone into thinking it is a light source.
But it’s not. It’s the moon. A nonactive rock that acts as the world’s nightlight in the sky.
Other guides you may want to check out:
- Why Can’t You See the Moon Every Night?
- Is It Safe To Look At The Moon Through A Telescope?
- Can A Telescope See The Flag On The Moon? [The Surprising Truth]
- How Many Countries Have Been To The Moon? [Successfully]
- Why Does The Moon Orbit The Earth? [And Not The Sun!]
- Why Does The Moon Have Phases? [The Scientific Explanation]
Hey, my name is Chris. I’m a passionate and seasoned astronomer who loves nothing more than observing the night sky. I also love researching, learning, and writing all things Space and the Universe. I created Astronomy Scope to share my knowledge, experience, suggestions, and recommendations of what I have learned along the way while helping anyone to get into and maximize their enjoyment of the hobby.