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Last quarter moon is August 14-15

Watch for the last quarter moon tonight after midnight or Tuesday morning. Just one week to go to the total solar eclipse!

The moon was almost exactly at last quarter when Jenney Disimon in Sabah, North Borneo captured this photo. The terminator line, or line between light and dark on the moon, appears straight.

Last quarter moon will come on August 15, 2017 at 01:15 UTC. (Translate to your time zone here). 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.

Last quarter moon comes about three weeks after the previous new moon and about a week before the next new moon. Next new moon will come on August 21, 2017 at 18:30 UTC; translate to your time zone. This is, of course, the now-famous new moon that will cause the August 21 total eclipse of the sun.

The chart below, from our friend Guy Ottewell, shows the moon’s trek through the heavens between now and the upcoming eclipse.

The moon’s path among the stars, until the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse. Illustration from Guy Ottewell’s The Under-Standing of Eclipses. Used with permission. See the planets near the eclipsed sun? See 4 planets at totality.

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.

A great thing about this observation is that it can be done from anywhere. Ben Orlove wrote from New York City: “I was sitting in the roof garden of my building, and there was the moon, right in front of me. You were right, this is a perfect time to visualize … the Earth’s motion.”

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. All in all, last quarter moon provides a great opportunity to think of yourself on a three-dimensional world in 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.

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.

Zefri Besar in Brunei Darussalam caught the last quarter moon on the morning of June 17, 2017, just after midnight.

As the moon orbits Earth, it changes phase in an orderly way. Follow these links to understand the various phases of the moon.

Four keys to understanding moon phases

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

Moon in 2017: Phases, cycles, eclipses, supermoons and more

Deborah Byrd