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.
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.
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.