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New Moon – the Invisible Phase

The New Moon is when the Sun and Moon are aligned, with the Sun and Earth on opposite sides of the Moon.

Illustration of the Moon's position in space in relation to Earth and the Sun at New Moon.
Illustration of the Moon's position in space in relation to Earth and the Sun at New Moon.

At New Moon, the Sun, the Moon, and Earth are in alignment.

©timeanddate.com

Next New Moon

Jun 10, 2021 at 6:52 am

Previous New Moon

May 11, 2021 at 2:59 pm

Times for the New Moon vary by time zone. Times and dates are based on the local time in Washington DC. Change location

We Can't See the New Moon

There are two reasons why we can't see the New Moon:

  1. The alignment of the Sun, the Moon, and Earth leaves the side of the Moon that faces Earth in darkness. This is called a conjunction or Syzygy.
  2. The New Moon is up in the daytime sky. It rises and sets around the same time as the Sun, bringing it too close to the Sun’s glare to be seen with the naked eye.

For all that, however, there is one special occasion when we can see a New Moon: during a solar eclipse. In fact, this is the only occasion that the New Moon is 'perfect'. The Moon's orbit around the Earth is slightly tilted, which means that—more often than not—the Sun, Moon and Earth are not perfectly aligned at New Moon. With specialist equipment, it is sometimes possible to detect a vanishingly thin lunar crescent in the blue sky at the precise moment of New Moon.

A Good Night for Stargazing

As New Moon nights are dark, they are often the best time to view other celestial objects like planets, meteor showers, and deep sky objects such as star clusters, nebulae, and galaxies.

Half of the Moon’s surface is always illuminated by direct sunlight, except during lunar eclipses when Earth casts its shadow on the Moon. Just how much of that light we can see from Earth varies every day, and we call this a Moon phase.

Higher Tides at New Moon

The greatest difference between high and low tide is around New Moon and Full Moon. During these Moon phases, the Moon and the Sun's gravitational forces combine to push the ocean’s water in the same direction. These tides are known as spring tides or king tides.

Religious and Cultural Significance

The Moon guides the dates of many religious and cultural holidays around the world. February's New Moon marks the beginning of the Lunar Year in the Chinese Calendar.

About a day after the New Moon conjunction, the Moon becomes visible again. The initial period, as only the thinnest sliver of a Crescent Moon becomes visible, used to be called New Moon, while the darkest phase was called Dark Moon.

This traditional definition of the New Moon is still in use in some cultures, defining the beginning of the months in the Islamic calendar.

Illustration of the eight phases of the Moon with an arrow showing the order they appear in, seen from Earth.
Illustration of the eight phases of the Moon with an arrow showing the order they appear in, seen from Earth.

It takes around 29.5 days to move through the eight Moon phases.

©timeanddate.com

First Primary Moon Phase

In western culture, we divide the lunar month into four primary and four intermediate Moon phases.

The New Moon is the first primary Moon phase. The next three are the First Quarter Moon (Half Moon), the Full Moon, and the Third Quarter Moon (Half Moon).

In addition, there are four intermediate Moon phases; the Waxing Crescent Moon, the Waxing Gibbous Moon, the Waning Gibbous Moon, and the Waning Crescent Moon.

New Moon Symbol in Calendars

symbol of a new moon

The symbol for New Moon in modern calendars is a filled, black circle.

The other primary Moon phase symbols in calendars:
1st quarter = First Quarter, full = Full Moon, 3rd quarter = Third Quarter

Causes Solar Eclipses

Two to three times a year, the New Moon phase coincides with the Moon reaching the lunar nodes of its orbit. The lunar nodes are the points where the Moon's orbit crosses the ecliptic, which is the Sun's path, seen from Earth. Then, the New Moon comes between the Earth and the Sun and becomes visible as a silhouette in front of the Sun.

Solar eclipses can only happen in the hours around New Moon. Lunar eclipses, on the other hand, only occur at Full Moon.

Total Solar Eclipse

A total solar eclipse is a New Moon eclipsing the Sun.

©bigstockphoto.com/JohanSwanepoel

A Black Moon Is a New Moon

Most years have 12 New Moons, one each month. But our calendar is not perfectly synchronized with astronomical events. Therefore, every now and then, a year has 13 New Moons. When this happens, at least one of those New Moons is a Black Moon.

Super and Micro New Moon

The Moon orbits Earth on an elliptical path, so its distance from Earth changes during a lunar month.

The point closest to Earth is called perigee, and the farthest point is known as apogee. When the New Moon is close to the perigee, it is known as a Super New Moon.

A Micro New Moon, on the other hand, is when it is farthest from Earth, at apogee.

Topics: Moon, Astronomy, Eclipses, Calendar