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Where’s the moon? Waxing crescent

Many photos of Sunday evening’s extremely thin and lovely young moon. A few glimpsed it near Mercury and Saturn, too. Watch for the waxing crescent in the evenings ahead.

Giuseppe Pappa caught a very young moon – just 1.5% illuminated – just after sunset on November 19, 2017. Because the moon is so low in the sky (where you are looking at it through an extra thickness of Earth’s atmopshere), it appears distorted. Canon 760d and 300mm lens.

In the days following new moon, a young moon – a waxing crescent – always appears in the west shortly after sunset. The moon has returned to the evening sky now, and you’re likely to see this little moon early this week.

Some people think a moon visible in the west after sunset is a rising moon. But it’s not; it’s a setting moon. All objects in our sky rise in the east and set in the west, due to Earth’s spin under the sky. When you see a waxing crescent, you know 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.

The planets Mercury and Saturn are also low in the western sky after sunset now, and the moon will be sweeping up past them, as shown on our chart below.

Let the moon help guide your eye to the planets Mercury and Saturn on November 19, 20 and 21. Read more.

View larger. | Ken Christison in northeastern North Carolina caught the moon and Mercury on November 19, 2017. He wrote: “Mercury is to the right of the 2nd tree from the left.”

View larger. | Eliot Herman in Tucson, Arizona caught the one-day crescent moon (with earthshine) on November 19, 2017 – with Mercury (to left) and Saturn (above left). Captured with a Nikon D850 and a Nikon 105 mm VR macro lens. The NEF image was converted to TIF and deconvoluted prior to Photoshop adjustment.

Note also 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.

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?

November 19, 2017 waxing crescent moon from Nuno Lopes in Barreiro, Portugal.

November 19, 2017 young moon from Patrick Casaert in Meaux, France of the Facebook page La Lune The Moon.

As Earth spun on November 19, the moon slowly edged away from the Earth-sun line. Thus, by the time the moon appeared for observers in North America, it looked it a bit more substantial. November 19, 2017 photo of a 2.2% illuminated moon by Suzanne Murphy in Wisconsin.

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

Check out EarthSky’s guide to the bright planets.

Photos of the August 21, 2017 eclipse here

How ISS astronauts saw the August 21 eclipse

Deborah Byrd