Last quarter moon comes on May 19, 2017 at 00:33 UTC. At North American latitudes, that translates to 8:33 p.m. EDT on May 18; translate to your time zone. Should you look for the last quarter moon around those times? No. The times just indicate when the moon reaches its exact last quarter phase.
Instead, look late tonight, or around dawn tomorrow. A last quarter moon always rises in the middle of the night, appears at its highest in the sky around dawn, and sets around midday.
On the night of a last quarter moon, the moon appears half illuminated in our sky, and this half-a-pie-shaped last quarter moon can be used as a guidepost to Earth’s direction of motion in orbit around the sun.
In other words, when you look toward a last quarter moon high in the predawn sky, for example, you’re gazing out approximately along the path of Earth’s orbit, in a forward direction. The moon is moving in orbit around the sun with the Earth and never holds still. But, if we could somehow anchor the moon in space . . . tie it down, keep it still . . . Earth’s orbital speed of 18 miles per second would carry us across the space between us and the moon in only a few hours.
Another fun time to see a last quarter moon is just after it rises, shortly after midnight. Then the lighted portion points downward, to the sun below your feet. Great time to think of yourself in the three-dimensional world of outer space.
At the last quarter phase, as seen from above, the moon in its orbit around Earth is at right angles to a line between the Earth and sun. The moon is now three-quarters of the way around in its orbit of Earth, as measured from one new moon to the next.
After the last quarter phase, the moon begins edging noticeably closer to the sun again on the sky’s dome. Fewer people notice the moon during the day from about last quarter on, because the sun’s glare begins to drown the moon from view.
As the moon orbits Earth, it changes phase in an orderly way. Follow these links to understand the various phases of the moon.
Where’s the moon? Waxing crescent
Where’s the moon? First quarter
Where’s the moon? Waxing gibbous
What’s special about a full moon?
Where’s the moon? Waning gibbous
Where’s the moon? Last quarter
Where’s the moon? Waning crescent
Where’s the moon? New phase
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.