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Where’s the moon? New phase

On the day of new moon, the moon rises and sets with the sun. The July 4, 2016 new moon signals the near-end of the Muslim celebration of Ramadan.

View larger. | Youngest possible lunar crescent, with the moon's age being exactly zero when this photo was taken — at the precise moment of the new moon - at 07:14 UTC on July 8, 2013.  Image by Thierry Legault.  Visit his website.  Used with permission.

Youngest possible lunar crescent, with the moon’s age being exactly zero when this photo was taken — at the instant of new moon – 0714 UTC on July 8, 2013. Image by Thierry Legault. Visit his website.

The ghostly image at the top of this post is a new moon. Its lighted half is facing entirely away from Earth. When the moon is new, its night face is facing us on Earth … and we can’t see the moon at this time.

New moon comes on on July 4, 2016 at 1101 UTC (6:01 a.m. in the central U.S.; 2:01 p.m. AST in Saudi Arabia). Translate to your timezone. This particular new moon is of interest to Muslims because it signals the near-end of Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer and family gatherings. Ramadan ends with the first sighting of the extremely young waxing crescent moon, an event that will take place on different days in different parts of the world, on Tuesday, July 5 or Wednesday, July 6. A young moon sighting on Monday, July 4 in Saudi Arabia, for example, is only possible if optical aid is used (a telescope), along with special filters to block the brightness of the nearby sun. On July 4 – at sunset in Saudi Arabia – the moon will be less than 12 hours old. To our knowledge, the most recent reliable record for youngest moon spotted with the unaided eye was achieved by Stephen James O’Meara – an experienced observer, known for his very excellent eyesight – in May 1990. He saw the young crescent with the unaided eye 15 hours and 32 minutes after new moon.

A typical young moon sighting, for most people with ordinary eyesight, comes when the moon is around 24 hours from new, or more.

But, again, with modern techniques – telescopes, filters, photography – the moon can be seen by extremely experienced observers even at the instant of new moon. That’s the case with the image at the top of this post, acquired by experienced amateur astronomer Thierry Legault in 2013. Read more about that image here.

In other words, a waning crescent seen within seconds of new moon is within the realm of possibility if special techniques and equipment are used.

On the day of new moon itself, you can’t see the moon with the eye alone for several reasons. First, at 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. A new moon is too close to the sun’s glare to be visible with the eye. Plus its lighted hemisphere is facing entirely away from us. It’s only as the moon moves in orbit, as its lighted hemisphere begins to come into view from Earth, that we can see it in our sky.

A new moon is more or less between the Earth and sun.  Its lighted half is turned entirely away from us. Image via memrise.com.

A new moon is more or less between the Earth and sun. Its lighted half is turned entirely away from us. Image via memrise.com.

Composite image of a 2006 solar eclipse by Fred Espenak.  Read his article on the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, first one visible from contiguous North America since 1979.

Composite image of a 2006 solar eclipse by Fred Espenak. Read his article on the August 21, 2017 total solar eclipse, first one visible from contiguous North America since 1979.

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 side of the moon can be seen in silhouette against the disk of the sun. Meanwhile, if you could travel in a spaceship to the opposite side of the moon, you’d see it shining brightly in daylight.

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.

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.

It should be possible to see the moon on September 15, 2015.  This photo is from the previous night, September 14.  Gene Porter in Georgia wrote:

Young moon, visible a day or so after the new moon phase. A young moon is seen in the west after sunset. It’s a waxing crescent moon. Photo by Gene Porter in Georgia.

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 2016: Phases, cycles, eclipses, supermoons and more

Deborah Byrd

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