This page last modified 2003 August 04

The Phases of the Moon


What are the Characteristics of each Lunar Phase?

NB: The statements involving rising and setting times may not apply at high latitudes, especially near the solstices.


New Moon: Invisible; except during solar eclipse, when it occults the Sun. During a partial solar eclipse, it occults only part of the Sun.

Waxing Crescent: The Moon is less than 90° away from the Sun, following it across the sky. The "horns" of the crescent point away from the Sun or, if you prefer to see the Moon as a crescent-shaped arrow-head, the arrow is pointing towards the Sun. Thin waxing crescents will be visible in the sky in the evening twilight, following the Sun as it sets. It is highest in the sky in late spring/early summer. In the tropics it sets with the horns pointing up, like a cup.

First Quarter: The Moon is 90° away from the Sun, following it across the sky. The curved side points in the general direction of the Sun. If the Moon is crossing the meridian, then the Sun will be within an hour or so of setting. It is highest in the sky near the vernal equinox.

Waxing Gibbous Moon: The Moon is more than 90° away from the Sun, following it across the sky. If the Moon is crossing the meridian then the Sun will have long since set. It is highest in the sky in late winter.

Full Moon: The Moon is opposite the Sun in the sky. It will cross the meridian at midnight. It is highest in the sky near the winter solstice. Eclipses of the Moon can only occur at Full Moon.

Waning Gibbous Moon: The Moon is more than 90° away from the Sun, preceding it across the sky. If the Moon is crossing the meridian then the Sun will be a long time rising. It is highest in the sky in late autumn/early winter.

Last Quarter: The Moon is 90° away from the Sun, preceding it across the sky. The curved side points in the general direction of the Sun. If the Moon is crossing the meridian, then the Sun will be within an hour or so of rising. It is highest in the sky near the autmnal equinox

Waning Crescent: The Moon is less than 90° away from the Sun, preceding it across the sky. The "horns" of the crescent point away from the Sun or, if you prefer to see the Moon as a crescent-shaped arrow-head, the arrow is pointing towards the Sun. Thin waxing crescents will be visible in the sky in the dawn twilight, preceding the Sun as it rises. It is highest in the sky in late summer. In the tropics it rises with the horns pointing up, like a cup.