Enjoying EarthSky? Subscribe.

172,120 subscribers and counting ...

Which phase of moon best for stargazing?

Image credit: NASA

Tonight for May 30, 2015

We got this question:

Which phase of the moon would be best for stargazing, and why?

And the answer is … it depends on what you want to do. Some people enjoy watching the moon itself, as it waxes and wanes in our sky. Some enjoy the fact that the moon appears near bright stars and planets at certain times of the month. For instance, you can use tonight’s moon to help you find the planet Saturn, and the stars Spica and Antares, as displayed on the sky chart below.

Use tonight's moon to locate the stars Spica and Antares, plus the planet Saturn. The green line depicts the ecliptic - Earth's orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

Use tonight’s moon to locate the stars Spica and Antares, plus the planet Saturn. The green line depicts the ecliptic – Earth’s orbital plane projected onto the constellations of the Zodiac.

The moon is now a waxing gibbous moon. Waxing means the illuminated part is increasing, whereas gibbous means the moon is more than half-full but less than totally full. Full Moon will occur on June 2.

Moon-free nights enable astronomers to look at deep-sky objects, such as galaxies, star clusters and nebulae, so they like it when the moon is at or near new phase. It’s best to look at these faint fuzzies in a night sky with little or no light. The next new moon happens on June 16.

Understanding moon phases

People using telescopes try to avoid the moon, because its glare interferes with the telescopic views of deep-sky objects. Especially around full moon, the moon casts a lot of light, washing out many nighttime treasures. At new moon, the moon is up during the day, not the nighttime. Around then, you won’t see the moon at all – unless you’re on just the right spot on Earth to watch a solar eclipse. But the last solar eclipse happened with the March 20 new moon, and the next solar eclipse won’t take place until September 13.

Moon phases: 1) new moon 2) waxing crescent 3) first quarter 4) waxing gibbous 5) full moon 6) waning gibbous 7) last quarter 8) waning crescent. For more, read Understanding moon phases

Moon phases: 1) new moon 2) waxing crescent 3) first quarter 4) waxing gibbous 5) full moon 6) waning gibbous 7) last quarter 8) waning crescent. For more, read Understanding moon phases

Bottom line: The best phase of the moon for stargazing depends on what you want to do. Some enjoy watching the moon itself. On the other hand, people using telescopes avoid the moon because its glare interferes with deep-sky objects.

A planisphere is virtually indispensable for beginning stargazers. Order your EarthSky planisphere today.

Help support EarthSky! Visit the EarthSky store for to see the great selection of educational tools and team gear we have to offer.

.