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See a very young moon March 28

Tonight – March 28, 2017 – if you’re far enough west with respect to the International Date Line, and especially if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere, you’ve got a good shot at seeing the whisker-thin young waxing crescent moon after sunset. That’s true even though – according to your calendar – new moon comes today.

The moon turns new on March 28 at 2:57 UTC. That means that – if you’re in a North American time zone – new moon came yesterday evening, March 27 (11:57 p.m. ADT, 10:57 p.m. EDT, 9:57 p.m. CDT, 8:57 p.m. MDT and 7:57 p.m. PDT).

Thus, as the sun sets on the North American west coast on March 28, the moon will be at or near 24 hours old.

To see it, you’ll need a crystal-clear sky and an absolutely unobstructed horizon in the direction of sunset. A lofty view from balcony or hill will be to your advantage, too. Bring along binoculars, if you have them, and scan for the extremely pale and slender lunar crescent over the sunset point on the horizon, starting within about 30 minutes after sunset.

On March 28, the moon sets first, followed by the planet Mercury and then the red planet Mars.

View larger. Karen Houle of Connecticut managed to capture the whisker-thin evening crescent on March 9, 2016. Karen told us,

View larger. | Here’s what a very young moon looks like. It’s a very slim crescent, deep in western twilight. Karen Houle of Connecticut caught this young moon on March 9, 2016, when the moon was only 21 hours and 13 minutes past new. Woot!

View larger. Dinh Nguyen of Santa Fe, New Mexico, also caught the young waxing crescent moon - plus earthshine - after sunset on March 9, 2016. We certainly have some eagle-eyed sky watchers in the EarthSky community! Thank you Dinh Nguyen!

View larger. | Here’s the March 9, 2016 young moon again – a few hours older than the one above – with earthshine. Photo by Dinh Nguyen of Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Here’s more good news for you young moon seekers in the Northern Hemisphere. We just passed the March equinox. For the Northern Hemisphere, that means the ecliptic – or path of the sun moon and planets is standing nearly straight up with respect to the evening horizon now.

The steep angle of the ecliptic places the young moon nearly directly above the sunset every March, as seen from the Northern Hemisphere, making the March young moon easy to see.

What’s the youngest moon you can see with your eye alone?

This illustration shows the view from Earth’s Southern Hemisphere now, where it’s autumn. The autumn angle of the ecliptic – or sun and moon’s path – makes a narrow angle with the horizon, making young moons harder to see. Image via classicalastronomy.com.

What if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere? Or in Europe … or Asia?

After sunset on March 28 in Europe, Africa, and Asia, the young crescent will be younger yet – and skinnier yet – almost to the point of nothingness. Moreover, the moon will be lower in the sky at sunset, and will follow the sun beneath the horizon sooner after sundown. Recommended almanacs can help you find the moon’s setting time in your sky.

Meanwhile, from temperate latitudes in South America, the moon will be older, but the angle of the ecliptic is not as favorable. For South America, the moon will be to one side of the sunset, rather than straight above it.

How about Australia or New Zealand? Your new moon comes on the evening of March 28, and you’ll have to wait until after sunset March 29 or even March 30 to view the evening crescent. Sorry!

But the moon always keeps moving in orbit around Earth, and thus the sky always offers a compensation prize. After today – as seen from around the globe – the waxing crescent moon will appear higher up at evening dusk. It’ll sweep past Mercury and Mars in the days ahead, as shown on the chart at the top of this post. Also, on any evening around now – when it gets truly dark out – look opposite the sunset direction to watch the king planet Jupiter ascending in the east. Earth is about to go between Jupiter and the sun, and so the planet is nearly at its brightest for this year. Jupiter’s yearly opposition will come on April 7.

In any year, you can follow an imaginary arc in the handle of the Big Dipper to the bright stars Arcturus and Spica. This year, 2017, is extra special because the dazzling planet Jupiter beams close to Spica all year long.

Also, keep watching the evening sky as the moon waxes larger.

Higher up than Mars, note the bright star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster, the two most prominent signposts in the constellation Taurus the Bull. The moon will meet up with the Bull on or near March 31.

If you draw an imaginary line from Mercury and/or Mars through Taurus, going in between Aldebaran and the Pleiades, you can envision the ecliptic with the mind’s-eye.

In late March and early April 2017, watch for the waxing crescent moon to go past the Pleiades star cluster and the star Aldebaran. The green line depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the zodiac.

One last note. Once you locate the ecliptic, you can seek out the mysterious zodiacal light some 80 to 120 minutes after sunset. Zodiacal light is interplanetary dust reflecting the light of the sun.

Because this dust circles the sun on nearly the same plane as Earth, watch for this soft, ethereal cone of light to extend upward from the horizon, in the direction of Taurus.

Maureen Allen in Yankeetown, Florida caught the zodiacal light (l) and Milky Way in February, 2016.

Bottom line: North America has a great shot at a heartbreakingly slim young moon, in the west after sunset on March 28, 2017. Wherever you are, if you miss the moon tonight, try again Wednesday evening.

Bruce McClure

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