What is the 'Man in the Moon'?

Why do people see faces in the Moon? And what shapes do you see?

What are the light and dark regions of the Moon?

The Moon is made up of lunar 'seas' and highlands that we see from Earth as dark and light patches.

These 'seas', also known as maria, are actually huge hardened lava plains, made up of volcanic rock that is less reflective than other parts of the lunar surface.

The highlands meanwhile are comparatively brighter, giving the Moon its characteristic light and dark patches.

Why do people see faces in the Moon?

People around the world have interpreted these lunar landscapes into familiar shapes and created stories to explain them.

The tendency to see familiar shapes and faces in inanimate objects is known as 'pareidolia'. Seeing a shape in the Moon is just one example of pareidolia: others including seeing shapes in clouds or faces in slices of toast.

Does everyone see a 'Man in the Moon'?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the different lunar seas make up the 'Man in the Moon's' face. The Seas of Serenity and Rain are his eyes; the Sea of Clouds forms his mouth; and the Seas of Islands and Vapours make up his nose.


The Man in the Moon outline
Does this help you see a 'man' in the Moon? (Illustration from The Moon exhibition at the National Maritime Museum)

However, the Man in the Moon is just one interpretation of the Moon's features. Other cultures have seen very different shapes in the lunar surface.

Remember too that the Moon only looks this way in the Northern Hemisphere. In the Southern Hemisphere, people see the Moon the other way up.

What people see in the Moon around the world

A Banished Man


The Banished Man - Moon shape illustration

Some people see the shape of a person carrying a bundle of sticks. In one European story, this represents a man who has been banished to the Moon as punishment for collecting sticks on the rest day of the Sabbath.

Moon Rabbit


Moon rabbit illustration - shapes in the Moon

In China, Yutu the rabbit, companion of the Moon goddess Chang'e, is seen in the Moon. With a pestle and mortar, he mixes the elixir of life that Chang'e has been banished to the Moon for stealing. In Japan and Korea, the rabbit pounds the ingredients to make rice cake or medicine.

Woman in the Moon


Woman in the Moon - lunar shapes illustration

Some people see a woman in the Moon. The left side of her face is seen in profile and she wears her hair up with two jewels in it. The crater, Tycho, looks like a shining diamond around her neck.

Moon Toad


Moon Toad - lunar shapes illustration

In one story, told by the Salish people of the Pacific Northwest Coast of America, a wolf falls in love with a toad. The toad didn't trust the wolf and in an attempt to escape its advances, it makes one giant leap to land on the Moon.

What do you see in the Moon?