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Moon at First Quarter

Dominic Ford, Editor
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The sky at

The Moon will be prominent in the evening sky, setting around midnight.

From Cambridge , it will become visible around 17:38 (EDT) as the dusk sky fades, 66° above your southern horizon. It will then reach its highest point in the sky at 17:40, 66° above your southern horizon. It will continue to be observable until around 00:11, when it sinks below 7° above your western horizon.

Begin typing the name of a town near to you, and then select the town from the list of options which appear below.

At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, it appears almost exactly half illuminated.

The Moon's path in coming days

Over coming days, the Moon will set later each day, becoming visible for more of the night. Within a few days, it will not make it very far above the eastern horizon before nightfall. By the time it reaches full phase, it will be visible for much of the night, rising at around dusk and setting at around dawn.

Its day-by-day progress is charted below, with all times are given below in Cambridge local time.

Date Sun
sets at
sets at
Altitude of Moon
at sunset
Direction of Moon
at sunset
14 Feb 202117:1420:0431°south-west
15 Feb 202117:1521:0541°south-west
16 Feb 202117:1622:0449°south-west
17 Feb 202117:1723:0657°south-west
18 Feb 202117:1900:0663°south
19 Feb 202117:2000:0666°south
20 Feb 202117:2101:0664°south-east
21 Feb 202117:2302:0758°south-east
22 Feb 202117:2403:0850°east
23 Feb 202117:2504:0440°east
24 Feb 202117:2604:5529°east
25 Feb 202117:2705:3918°east

Observing the Moon at first 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. Click here for more information about the Moon's phases.

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 variation

Although the Moon passes first quarter every month, it is more favourably placed in the early evening sky at some times of year than others.

It appears high up in the evening sky around the spring equinox, but much lower towards the horizon around the autumn 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 sunset 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.

The inclination of the ecliptic plane to the horizon at Cambridge varies between 71° (sunset at the spring equinox) and 24° (sunset at the autumn equinox). On February 19, the ecliptic is inclined at 67° to the western sunset horizon, as shown by the yellow line in the planetarium view above, meaning that on this occasion the Moon is very favourably placed for viewing from Cambridge.

The Moon's position

At the moment it reaches first quarter, the Moon's distance from the Earth will be 403,000 km. Its exact position will be as follows:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Angular Size
The Moon 03h56m50s +19°03' Taurus 29'36"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 19 February 2021
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

8-day old moon
Waxing Gibbous


8 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 05:29 10:35 15:41
Venus 06:19 11:25 16:31
Moon 10:30 17:48 00:06
Mars 09:43 17:03 00:24
Jupiter 05:54 10:52 15:50
Saturn 05:33 10:23 15:14
All times shown in EST.


The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE405 planetary ephemeris published by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).

This event was automatically generated by searching the ephemeris for planetary alignments which are of interest to amateur astronomers, and the text above was generated based on an estimate of your location.

Related news

19 Feb 2021  –  Moon at First Quarter
27 Feb 2021  –  Full Moon
05 Mar 2021  –  Moon at Last Quarter
13 Mar 2021  –  New Moon

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