You’re hardly alone if you’ve wondered whether the moon is considered a star. After all, it glows in the night sky just like all the other stars you can see. It just happens to be a little bit bigger.
In reality, the moon is not considered a star. While it shines just like many of the stars in the sky, its light comes from the sun, not itself. To be a star, a celestial body must be capable of igniting itself because of its mass. The moon’s core has never ignited, so it does not fall under the definition of a star.
If you’re looking for an example of a star in our own solar system, you’re going to have to turn to the sun. That massive body, full of hydrogen and helium, is truly a star according to the scientific definition of the word.
Why the Moon Isn’t Considered a Star
While it might look like a star to the naked eye, the moon is very different from the twinkling lights we see around us every night. Stars are massive bodies, much larger than most people would imagine them to be. They’re also made of fiery gasses, which is what makes them shine so brightly.
The moon, meanwhile, is a relatively small, solid mass. As you probably know, people have even landed on the moon and walked on its surface. That type of activity would never be possible with a star due to the heat and non-solid surface. Despite its luminous appearance, the moon has remarkably little in common with the sun and other stars.
Why the Moon Isn’t a Planet, Either
Once you know the moon isn’t a star, you might be tempted to assume it’s a planet. This assumption is also incorrect. While the moon is big and round just like the planets in our solar system, it doesn't do enough to meet the definition.
In order to be considered a planet, a celestial body must orbit the sun or another star. Earth, for example, goes around the sun on a yearly basis. All the other planets make this same journey but at a different pace. The moon, on the other hand, directly orbits the Earth. It also rotates around the sun, but only as a part of Earth’s general system.
The Moon Is an “Astronomical Body”
Since the moon is neither a star nor a planet, we must give it a slightly less vaunted title. For scientists, the moon is simply considered an “astronomical body.” This might not sound so exciting, but it’s not meant as an insult.
After all, the moon plays a major role in life here on Earth by creating the tides and lighting the night sky.
Even if it’s not a star or a planet, the moon is unquestionably an astronomical body worthy of serious respect.
The Moon Is Also Considered a Satellite
If the term “astronomical body” leaves you feeling disappointed, you can always apply a slightly more colorful label to the moon. Since it orbits the Earth, the moon is technically considered a satellite.
While we often associate the term “satellite” with artificial gadgets that take measurements and give us cell phone service, the word refers to anything that rotates around the Earth.
By this definition, the moon is a satellite, and an especially large one to boot.
Fun Facts About the Moon
The moon might not be a star, but it’s still an important feature of life here on Earth. People have long used the moon’s shifting patterns to keep track of time, and countless poets and artists have been entranced by the subtle beauty of moonlight. The more you learn about the moon, the more appreciation you’ll have for our closest celestial neighbor.
Earth’s Only Natural Satellite
There are over 3,000 satellites currently orbiting Earth, but only one of them is natural. That natural satellite, of course, is the moon. Made of rock and metal, the moon has existed alongside Earth for over 4.5 billion years.
A Stabilizing Effect on Our Planet
For life on Earth to remain stable, countless natural forces must keep the planet within a steady equilibrium. The moon, seemingly nothing but an adornment, supplies many of these essential forces. Earth has a natural wobbling effect, and the moon’s presence helps stabilize these back-and-forth movements. This, in turn, has a moderating impact on the planet’s climate.
So Close, and Yet So Far
Shining so brightly in the night sky, the moon might look like it’s quite close to the Earth. In relative terms, it is. After all, there’s no celestial body any closer. All the same, the moon is actually 240,000 miles from the Earth’s surface, so hardly a quick jaunt away.
Made of Cheese? Not Quite
The moon might look like a tasty wheel of cheese, but it would leave your teeth smarting even if your mouth were big enough to bite into it. Made from rock and metal, the moon’s pitted surface comes from collisions with asteroids and comets. It turns out a poor astronomical body takes a lot of cosmic abuse.
One of Many “Moons” in the Universe
We might refer to that bright disk as simply “the moon,” but it’s actually one of many astronomical bodies that fall under the “moon” category. Any solid body that orbits a planet is considered a moon, and there are more than 200 of them in our solar system alone.
Conclusion: Not a Star, But Pretty Cool All the Same
The moon isn’t a star, but it might be something even more special. It’s the only natural satellite our plant has, and it’s the fifth biggest moon in the entire solar system. With its gentle light and gorgeous appearance, the moon will surely impress us for as long as we inhabit the Earth.