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| Moon Phases on Mar 17, 2012

Understanding new moon

On the day of new moon, the moon rises when the sun rises. It sets when the sun sets. It crosses the sky with the sun during the day.

What is the ghostly image at the top of this post? It’s a new moon. Its lighted half is facing entirely away from Earth.

The image above is imaginary. It’s as if you flew in a spaceship to a place where you could see the night side of the moon. Why do we say imaginary? Because, when the moon is new, its night face is facing us on Earth … and we can’t see the moon at this time.

During a total solar eclipse, the night side of the moon can be seen in silhouette against the disk of the sun. If you could travel in a spaceship to the opposite side of the moon, you'd see it shining brightly.

We can’t see the new moon from Earth, except during the stirring moments of a solar eclipse. Then the moon passes in front of the sun, and the night portion of the moon becomes visible to us, surrounded by the sun’s fiery corona.

Once each month, the moon comes all the way around in its orbit so that it is more or less between us and the sun. If the moon always passed directly between the sun and Earth at new moon, a solar eclipse would take place every month. But that doesn’t happen every month. Instead, in most months, the moon passes above or below the sun as seen from our earthly vantage point.

Young moon, visible a day or two after the new moon phase. A young moon is seen in the west after sunset. It's a waxing crescent moon.

On the day of new moon, the moon rises when the sun rises. It sets when the sun sets. It crosses the sky with the sun during the day. That’s why we can’t see the new moon in the sky. It is too close to the sun’s glare to be visible. Plus its lighted hemisphere is facing away from us.

Then a day or two later, the moon reappears, in the west after sunset. Then it’s a slim waxing crescent visible only briefly after sunset – what some call a young moon.

Each new lunar cycle is measured beginning at each new moon. Astronomers call one lunar cycle a lunation.

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

Understanding Moon Phases
Waxing Crescent
First Quarter
Waxing Gibbous
Full Moon
Waning Gibbous
Last Quarter
Waning Crescent
New Moon