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Is the Moon yellow or Silver?

The moon has captivated humanity since the beginning of time. When we gaze up at the night sky, the moon’s glow illuminates the darkness and evokes a sense of wonder. But the exact color of the moon has been debated for centuries. To the naked eye, the moon often appears yellow, yet in photos, it looks silver. So which is it – is the moon yellow or silver?

The Science Behind the Moon’s Color

The moon itself does not contain any natural color. The lunar surface is made up of dark volcanic basaltic plains, formed by ancient volcanic eruptions. These rocks reflect the sun’s rays, but do not produce any color of their own. So the moon’s hue entirely depends on the way it reflects sunlight and the conditions under which we view it.

During a full moon, when the moon passes behind Earth’s shadow, it can take on a reddish hue. This is because the gases and dust in Earth’s atmosphere filter out most of the blue light, leaving behind the longer wavelengths of red and orange. But aside from lunar eclipses, the moon appears white or gray when viewed from space. So why does it often look yellow or orange from Earth?

The apparent yellow/orange color is caused by the scattering of light in our atmosphere. Particles in the air reflect blue light more than red and green light, removing some blue hues from the moon’s reflected rays. The longer red and orange wavelengths pass more easily through this filter, making the moon appear yellow, orange, or red-tinted when viewed from the ground. This effect is heightened when the moon is low on the horizon, due to the long path its light takes through the atmosphere before reaching our eyes.

Does Atmospheric Conditions Affect the Moon’s Color?

Atmospheric conditions can dramatically impact the color we perceive the moon to be. Here are some of the factors that influence its apparent shade:

  • Pollution – Dust, smoke, and high humidity intensify the scattering of blue light, making the moon look more yellow.
  • Clouds – Thick cloud cover acts as another filter, further removing blue hues.
  • Elevation – At higher elevations with less atmosphere, the moon appears whiter.
  • Moon’s position – A moon low on the horizon passes through more atmosphere, intensifying yellow/orange tones.
  • Time of year – In winter, the air contains more moisture, enhancing the moon’s yellow color.

While the moon always gives off white light, the filtering of blue wavelengths through our atmosphere gives it an orange or yellow tone. The strength of this effect depends on atmospheric conditions at the time of observation.

Evidence for the Moon’s Silver Color

So while the moon may appear yellow, orange or even red from Earth, scientific evidence indicates that the moon is actually gray or silver in color when viewed from space. Here are some key facts that support this:

  • Photos from space – In images taken from lunar orbit or from space shuttles, with no atmosphere, the moon’s surface looks gray/silvery.
  • Apollo moon rocks – Moon rock samples brought back by the Apollo missions are dark gray and black, with a dusty texture.
  • No air on the moon – With no atmosphere, there is no medium to scatter light and alter colors on the moon itself.
  • Astronaut accounts – Apollo astronauts on the surface reported the moon’s color as darkened silver or charcoal gray.

While our eyes may deceive us into seeing yellow tones, objective evidence indicates the moon’s face is actually a light gray or charcoal color. The silver shine comes from sunlight reflecting off the dusty lunar surface.

When the Moon Appears Yellow, Orange or Red

While the moon is silver in reality, we frequently observe it having yellow, orange or red hues. Here are some of the reasons for this:

  • Low on the horizon – When the moon is near the horizon, its light passes through the maximum amount of atmosphere, scattering away more blue light.
  • Dust or pollution – Particles in the air preferentially scatter blue light, leaving yellow/orange to pass through.
  • Clouds – Cloud cover acts as another filter, removing additional blue wavelengths.
  • Moon illusion – The moon appears larger on the horizon, magnifying atmospheric effects on its color.
  • Lunar eclipses – When passing through Earth’s shadow, the moon can take on a red or orange tone.

While these conditions make the moon appear yellow/orange, the lunar surface itself does not contain any coloration. The silver gray color emerges when viewing the moon from space, without interference from Earth’s atmosphere.

Does the Moon’s Phase Affect Its Color?

The moon’s color remains relatively constant as it progresses through its phases. However, some interesting color effects can be observed:

  • Full moon – With its surface fully illuminated, the moon appears whitest during the full moon phase.
  • Crescent moon – Some crescent moons exhibit a blue glow along the shadowed edge. This is caused by moonlight refracting through Earth’s atmosphere.
  • Lunar eclipses – A red/orange tone can be observed as the moon passes into Earth’s shadow during a total lunar eclipse.

Aside from these scenarios, the moon’s overall gray/silvery color does not change significantly from one phase to another. The amount of light reflected from the surface is the main variable.

Moon Phase What Color it Appears
New moon No visible moon
Waxing crescent Gray with some blue glow
First quarter Gray
Waxing gibbous Grayish white
Full moon Bright white
Waning gibbous Grayish white
Third quarter Gray
Waning crescent Gray with some blue glow

As seen above, the moon retains its silvery white color through most phases, simply reflecting more or less light depending on how much of it is illuminated by the sun.

Misconceptions About the Moon’s Color

Many misconceptions exist regarding the moon’s color and why it appears differently at times. Here are some common myths:

  • Myth: The moon is yellow. Fact: While it often looks yellow, the lunar surface itself does not contain any yellow coloration.
  • Myth: A harvest moon is more yellow. Fact: The color is not different but appears more yellow/orange when low in the sky.
  • Myth: A blue moon means the moon is blue. Fact: A blue moon refers to the rare occurrence of two full moons in one month and does not involve any color change.
  • Myth: The moon turns red during a blood moon. Fact: A blood moon is simply a total lunar eclipse where the moon takes on a reddish hue as it passes through Earth’s shadow.

While we may observe temporary color changes, the moon’s surface remains gray even during colorful lunar events. The key takeaway – the moon only appears yellow, orange or red from Earth due to the effect of our atmosphere on the sunlight it reflects.


While the moon often exhibits a yellow, orange or red glow to observers on Earth, scientific evidence reveals the lunar surface to be actually gray or silvery in color. The yellow hue is caused by the filtering effect of our atmosphere, which scatters away blue wavelengths of light. Without this atmospheric effect, the moon would appear gray when viewed from space, as confirmed by lunar samples and astronauts’ firsthand accounts.

The moon’s color remains relatively constant as it orbits Earth, only going through temporary color changes during certain events like lunar eclipses. The amount of sunlight reflected from the lunar surface varies over moon phases, controlling the brightness but not the overall gray tone. So next time you gaze up at the moon, remember you’re looking at a giant silver-gray space rock!