Tonight – March 10, 2016 – if you’re far enough west with respect to the International Date Line, you’ve got a good shot at seeing the young waxing crescent moon after sunset. How far west? Well, the Americas are good.
On this same date in Europe, Africa, and Asia, the young moon will be somewhat closer to the sunset horizon. Will you see it? Maybe. You’ll need to look very shortly after the sun goes down.
Meanwhile, from temperate latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere – for example in Australia or New Zealand – you might have to wait until after sunset March 11 to view the evening crescent.
Much higher up than the moon at present, note the bright star Aldebaran and the Pleiades star cluster, the two most prominent signposts in the constellation Taurus the Bull, adorning the March evening sky.
Watch, as darkness falls in the days ahead, as the waxing crescent moon climbs upward, towards the Pleiades star cluster, as shown on the sky chart above. The moon will meet up with the Bull on or near March 13.
If you draw an imaginary line from the moon through Taurus, going in between Aldebaran and the Pleiades, you can envision the ecliptic with the mind’s-eye. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac. Because the moon orbits Earth on nearly the same plane that Earth orbits the sun, you’ll always find the moon on or near the ecliptic.
Once you locate the ecliptic, you can seek out the mysterious zodiacal light some 80 to 120 minutes after sunset. Zodiacal light is actually interplanetary dust reflecting the light of the sun. Because interplanetary dust circles the sun on nearly the same plane that Earth does, watch for this soft, ethereal cone of light to extend upward from the horizon, in the direction of Taurus.
At temperate latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere, the ecliptic hits the horizon at a particularly steep angle as darkness falls in March. That’s why mid-northern latitudes have their best chance of catching the zodiacal light in the evening sky at this time of year. At temperate attitudes in the Southern Hemisphere, your best chance for catching the evening zodiacal light comes in September.
Be sure to look for the zodiacal light while the moon is still a rather small crescent. In a day or two, the increasing brightness of waxing moon may well wash the zodiacal light from the evening sky.
Bottom line: The young moon returns to the evening sky on March 10 or 11, 2016!