There’s something special about the new Moon. We’ve all felt it.
For astronomers, new Moon means no Moon. It’s when the Moon is in line with the sun. Lost in the solar glare, it’s also lit up from behind, showing us its dark side. It’s doubly invisible.
For many cultures, the New Moon means something else. It’s the first sighting of the thin, returning crescent one or two days after astronomical new Moon. This very thin crescent is always low in evening twilight.
After the Moon’s absence for a few days, it’s kind of a lunar rebirth. Thus, many cultures revolved ceremonies around that first appearance of the new Moon. For Muslims, its sighting officially marks the beginning of each month.
The seasons vary enormously in how easy it is to see a very young waxing Moon. In the fall, the Moon’s orbit is almost horizontal compared with the horizon, making the very thin crescent impossible to see. But right now the returning Moon pops upward almost vertically from the sunset position. This is the easiest “new Moon” (thin crescent) of the entire year.
New Moon for February and March 2016
The new Moon for February 2016 is on the 8th. Look very low in western twilight a half hour after sunset on Tuesday February 9.
If that proves too challenging, observe on Wednesday February 10 or even the following evening, when the crescents will be fatter, higher, and no challenge at all.
The same sequence repeats on March 9, 10th, and 11. In particular, the March 9 crescent will be extremely low and as thin as a hair, an excellent, satisfying chalenge.
A smile or an archer’s bow?
Only in late winter does the waxing crescent Moon look like a smile. The rest of the year it’s more or less lit up on its right side, especially in the autumn. (The crescent Moon is never oriented like a frown).
The Moon’s orientation also varies with your location. It’s most perfectly lit up on the bottom as seen from southern states and the tropics. But, in truth, the February and March “new Moon” is pretty much a smile everywhere.
Who can resist?