A first quarter moon rises around noon and sets around midnight. You’ll likely spot it in late afternoon or early evening, high up in the sky. At this moon phase, the moon is showing us precisely half of its lighted half.
Or you might say that – at first quarter moon – we’re seeing half the moon’s day side.
We call this moon a quarter and not a half because it is one quarter of the way around in its orbit of Earth, as measured from one new moon to the next. Also, although a first quarter moon appears half-lit to us, the illuminated portion we see of a first quarter moon truly is just a quarter. We’re now seeing half the moon’s day side, that is. Another lighted quarter of the moon shines just as brightly in the direction opposite Earth!
And what about the term half moon? That’s a beloved term, but not an official one.
As the moon orbits Earth, it changes phase in an orderly way. Follow the links below to understand the phases of the moon.
Bottom line: The first quarter moon comes on December 15 at 11:49 UTC; translate UTC to your time. As viewed from the whole Earth, it’s high up at sunset, looking like half a pie.
Check out EarthSky’s guide to the bright planets.
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.