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The Waxing Crescent Moon

This intermediate Moon phase comes after New Moon and lasts until half of the Moon's visible surface is illuminated at First Quarter Moon.

Illustration image

A Waxing Crescent Moon.


0.1% to 49.9% Illuminated

In modern astronomy, the Waxing Crescent Moon starts as the Moon becomes visible again after the New Moon conjunction, when the Sun and Earth were on opposite sides of the Moon, making it impossible to see the Moon from Earth.

Waxing means that it is growing, while crescent refers to the curved shape similar to a banana or a boat.

With some variations, the Waxing Crescent Moon rises in the daytime before noon and becomes visible in the day sky. It gets more visible around sunset but normally sets before midnight.

New Moon in Some Cultures

The initial period, just as 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 New Moon is still in use in some cultures, defining the beginning of the months in the Islamic calendar.

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 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 refer to this as a Moon phase.

Primary and Intermediate Phases

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

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.

The eight phases of the Moon


The Moon phases start with the invisible New Moon, while the first visible phase is the thin sliver of a Waxing Crescent Moon. Around a week later, half of the Moon’s surface is illuminated while the other half is in darkness at First Quarter Moon.

The illuminated part continues to grow into a Waxing Gibbous Moon, until 14 to 15 days into the cycle, we see the entire face of the Moon lit up at Full Moon.

The illuminated part then gradually shrinks into a Waning Gibbous Moon, and when it reaches Third Quarter, the opposite half from the First Quarter is illuminated. From there, it fades into a Waning Crescent Moon. Finally, the Moon disappears completely from view into another New Moon phase, only to reemerge and repeat this cycle over and over.

Same Phase Looks Different

A Waining Crescent Moon against a black night sky illuminated from the left side.

A Waxing Crescent Moon in another location.


The Moon phases are the same all over the world, both in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. The same percentage of the Moon will be illuminated no matter where on Earth you are. However, whether the Waxing Crescent Moon looks like a banana, a boat, or even an umbrella, depends on the time, the date, your location, and the Moon's position in the sky.

Exactly which part of the Moon is lit up–the top, bottom, or the side–also depends on how high the Moon is in the sky. The Waxing Crescent Moon is generally higher in the sky in the summer than in the winter.

The line–or curve–dividing the illuminated and dark parts of the Moon is called the terminator. The terminator of a Waxing Crescent Moon can be on the right side, the left, the top, or the bottom.

Illustration image

Earthshine at Waxing Crescent Moon.

©iStockphoto.com/Igor Sokalski


Although only a small part of the Moon is directly illuminated by the Sun at the start of the Waxing Crescent Moon, the rest of the Moon is sometimes also faintly visible. This is because Earth also reflects sunlight as a dull glow onto the Moon. This phenomenon is called earthshine or Da Vinci glow, and it is most noticeable in April and May.

No Crescent Moon in Calendars

There is no common symbol for a Waxing Crescent Moon in calendars as it is an intermediate Moon phase. Only the four primary phases are shown in calendars with the following symbols:
symbol of a new moon = New Moon symbol of a First Quarter = First Quarter symbol of a Full Moon = Full Moon symbol of a Third quarter Moon = Third Quarter

These symbols reflect the Moon's appearance in the Northern Hemisphere, which can be confusing for people in the Southern Hemisphere, where the opposite side may be illuminated.

The Moon illustration on our Moon phase pages changes as time passes, and indicates more accurately, although not perfectly, which part of the Moon is illuminated in more than 5000 locations worldwide.

Topics: Astronomy, Moon