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Where’s the moon? Waxing crescent

When you see the moon as a slim crescent in the west after sunset, it’s always waxing. Is that Earth’s shadow on the moon? No, it’s the moon’s own shadow.

Moon and Venus on September 2, from Leslie Beauchamp near Ripley, California.

The September 2016 waxing crescent moon was near the planet Venus. Here they are on September 2, from Leslie Beauchamp near Ripley, California. See more photos like this.

A waxing crescent moon – sometimes called a young moon – is always seen in the west after sunset.

At this moon phase, the Earth, moon and sun are located nearly on a line in space. If they were more precisely on a line, as they are at new moon, we wouldn’t see the moon. The moon would travel across the sky during the day, lost in the sun’s glare.

But a waxing crescent moon is far enough away from that Earth-sun line to be visible near the sun’s glare – that is, in the west after sunset. Although there are seasonal effects, in general a waxing moon is seen one day to several days after new moon. It’s always seen in the evening, and it’s always seen in the west. On these days, the moon rises one hour to several hours behind the sun and follows the sun across the sky during the day. When the sun sets, and the sky darkens, the moon pops into view in the western sky.

If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere during these months of September, October and November – the months around the September equinox – the waxing crescent moon appears low in your twilight sky. Are you in the Southern Hemisphere? If so, the moon appears higher in your sky after sunset, and it’s a great time for you to see extremely young waxing crescent moons (that is, moons only a day or two after new moon).

The moon is now waxing toward first quarter. Next first quarter moon will be September 9, 2016 at 1149 UTC. Translate to your time zone.

John Copeland in Santa Ynez, California caught the moon on September 3, over his olive orchard.

John Copeland in Santa Ynez, California caught the moon on September 3, over his olive orchard.

Note that a crescent moon has nothing to do with Earth’s shadow on the moon. The only time Earth’s shadow can fall on the moon is at full moon, during a lunar eclipse. There is a shadow on a crescent moon, but it’s the moon’s own shadow. Night on the moon happens on the part of the moon submerged in the moon’s own shadow. Likewise, night on Earth happens on the part of Earth submerged in Earth’s own shadow.

Because the waxing crescent moon is nearly on a line with the Earth and sun, its illuminated hemisphere – or day side – is facing mostly away from us. We see only a slender fraction of the day side: a crescent moon. Each evening, because the moon is moving eastward in orbit around Earth, the moon appears farther from the sunset glare. It is moving farther from the Earth-sun line in space. Each evening, as the moon’s orbital motion carries it away from the Earth-sun line, we see more of the moon’s day side. Thus the crescent in the west after sunset appears to wax, or grow fatter each evening.

Here’s more to look for in tonight’s sky

Venus, the waxing crescent moon, and Jupiter all in a line on September 2, 2016 from the Island of Hawai'i, via Imaginscape Photography.

Venus, the waxing crescent moon, and Jupiter all in a line on September 2, 2016 from the Island of Hawai’i, via Imaginscape Photography.

The pale glow on the darkened portion (night side) of a crescent moon is called earthshine. Is caused by light reflected from Earth’s day side onto the moon. After all, when you see a crescent moon in Earth’s sky, any moon people looking back at our world would see a nearly full Earth. Read more: What is earthshine?

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

Check out EarthSky’s guide to the bright planets.

Deborah Byrd

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