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Moon at Last Quarter



The Moon's path in coming days

Over coming days, the Moon will rise later each day, so that it is visible for less time before sunrise and it less far above the eastern horizon before dawn. By the time it reaches new moon, it will rise at around dawn and set at around dusk, making it visible only during the daytime.

Over the next few days, the distance between the Moon and the Sun will decrease and it will rise later each day. By the time it disappears into the Sun's glare as it approaches new moon, it will only be visible very shortly before sunrise.

Observing the Moon at last quarter

The Moon orbits the Earth once every four weeks, causing its phases to cycle through new moon, first quarter, full moon, last quarter, and back to new moon once every 29.5 days.

As it progresses through this cycle, it is visible at different times of day. At last quarter, it rises at around midnight, appears high in the sky by dawn, and sets at around midday.

The period when the Moon shows half phase is ideal for observing the Moon with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope. The border between the light and dark portions of the Moon's disk is the best place to look for detail on its surface, because along this line, the Moon's surface is illuminated at a very shallow angle. As a result, mountains and crater rims cast long shadows which are very easy to see. An observer on the Moon would see the Sun on the horizon, casting long shadows just like the ones we see on Earth at sunrise and sunset.

At first quarter and last quarter, when the terminator line is down the middle of the Moon, it is best presented for view, without any foreshortening.

Seasonal variations

Although the Moon passes last quarter every month, it is more favourably placed in the pre-dawn sky at some times of year than others. It appears high up in the pre-dawn sky around the autumn equinox, but much lower towards the horizon around the spring equinox. This is because it always lies close to a line across the sky called the ecliptic. This marks the flat plane in space in which all of the planets circle the Sun. It is the line through the zodiacal constellations that the Sun follows through the year.

The altitude at which the Moon appears above the horizon at sunrise depends how steeply the line of the ecliptic is inclined to the horizon. If the plane of the ecliptic meet the horizon at a very shallow angle, the Moon will rise or set along a line which is almost parallel to the horizon, and a large separation from the Sun along this line would still only correspond to a very low altitude in the sky.

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