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Which moon phase best for stargazing?

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, over the past several mornings, we’ve seen the moon slipping down toward the sunrise, edging toward the next new moon on May 25, passing the planets Venus and Mercury in turn.

If you’re reading this before sunrise on May 23, watch for the old moon and Mercury.

Can you see the moon on the morning of May 23? Possibly. Read more here.

Can you see it on the morning of May 24? Probably not from northerly latitudes, but, yes, probably, if you’re in the Southern Hemisphere now.

Most professional astronomers don’t care about observing the moon itself. Most are more interested in observing objects in space much farther away than Earth’s moon. They look forward to moon-free nights, which let them look at deep-sky objects, such as galaxies, star clusters and nebulae. They like the moon at or near new phase! It’s best to look at these faint fuzzies in a night sky with little or no light.

Four keys to understanding moon phases

Amateur astronomers using telescopes may also 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, such as much-heralded August 21, 2017 eclipse – first total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous U.S. since 1979. It’ll likely be one of the most-viewed eclipses in history.

In the meantime, what do we have to look forward to in the days ahead? Nothing less than the closest supermoon of 2017, which comes – not with a full moon – but with the May 25 new moon! You won’t see it. It’s a new moon and therefore hidden in the sun’s glare. But it’ll bring higher-than-usual tides.

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 Four keys to 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.

Closest moon of 2017 coming up May 25

Total eclipse of sun: August 21, 2017

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

Deborah Byrd

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