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New Moon – the Invisible Phase

In modern astronomy, 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.


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There are several reasons why it is impossible for us to see the New Moon in the sky.

The alignment of the Sun, the Moon, and Earth, leaves the side of the Moon that faces Earth in complete darkness. Technically, this is called a conjunction or Syzygy in the Sun-Earth-Moon system (see illustration).

In addition, the New Moon 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.

New Moon in Different Cultures

About a day after the New Moon conjunction, the Moon becomes visible again as a Waxing Crescent Moon.

The initial period, as only the thinnest sliver of a Crescent Moon becomes visible and the Da Vinci glow or earthshine envelops the dark portion of the Moon, used to be called New Moon while the darkest phase was called Dark Moon.

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

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.

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 gravitational forces of the Moon and the Sun combine to push the ocean’s water in the same direction. These tides are known as spring tides or king tides.

Sun Lights Up the Moon

The Moon does not radiate its own light, but the Moon's surface reflects the Sun’s rays. Half of the Moon’s surface is always lit up by sunlight, except during lunar eclipses when Earth casts its shadow on the Moon. Just how much of that light we can see from our point of view on Earth varies every day, and this is what we call a Moon phase.

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.


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.

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 completely black circle.

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

Causes Solar Eclipses

Even though the New Moon cannot normally be seen from Earth, there is an exception: 2 to 3 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 path of the Sun, seen from Earth.

At these points, the dark New Moon positions itself between Earth and the Sun and blocks some of the Sun's rays from reaching some areas on Earth, causing a solar eclipse. The New Moon, or at least a part of it, is then 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 happen at Full Moon.

Total Solar Eclipse

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


A Black Moon Is a New Moon

Most years have 12 New Moons, 1 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 1 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 over the course of 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. It's also known as a Minimoon or a Mini New Moon.

No Permanently Dark Side

The notion that there is a permanently dark side of the Moon, a side which never sees sunlight, is wrong. When the side of the Moon we can see from Earth is dark, the opposite side is lit up, and vice versa.

Topics: Moon, Astronomy, Eclipses, Calendar