Simulated image courtesy of Tom Ruen.

Moon at Last Quarter

Dominic Ford, Editor
From the Moon feed

Objects: The Moon
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The sky at

The Moon will pass last quarter phase, rising in the middle of the night and appearing prominent in the pre-dawn sky.

From Washington, it will be visible from soon after it rises, at 00:44, until soon before it sets at 14:02.

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 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 in the middle of the night and appears high in the sky by dawn. It sets at around lunchtime. More information about the Moon's phases is available here.

Observing the Moon at last quarter

Over coming days, the Moon will rise later each day, so that it is visible for less time before sunrise and rises 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.

Its daily progress is charted below, with all times are given in Washington local time.

Date Sun
rises at
rises at
Altitude of Moon
at sunrise
Direction of Moon
at sunrise
26 Jul 202106:3122:2425°south-west
27 Jul 202106:3222:5536°south-west
28 Jul 202106:3323:2345°south-west
29 Jul 202106:3423:4953°south
30 Jul 202106:3400:1359°south
31 Jul 202106:3500:3962°south-east
01 Aug 202106:3601:0661°south-east
02 Aug 202106:3701:3656°east
03 Aug 202106:3802:1050°east
04 Aug 202106:3902:5041°east
05 Aug 202106:3903:3732°east
06 Aug 202106:4004:3122°east

A thin crescent

The months around the autumn equinox – September and October in the northern hemisphere – present the best opportunity to see a very thin crescent Moon immediately before sunrise in the days running up to new moon.

This comes about because the Moon appears higher in the dawn sky sooner after new moon in the autumn months as compared to other times of year.

The inclination of the ecliptic to the horizon changes over the course of the year, affecting how high objects appear in the sky.

At all times, the Moon lies close to a line across the sky called the ecliptic, which is shown in yellow in the planetarium above. This line traces the path that the Sun takes through the zodiacal constellations every year, and shows the plane of the Earth's orbit around the Sun. Since all the planets circle the Sun in almost exactly the same plane, they too move across the sky following the same line.

When the Moon is widely separated from the Sun, it is separated from it along the line of the ecliptic. But, at different times of year, the ecliptic meets the horizon at different angles at sunrise. This means that a certain number of days after new moon, the Moon appears at different altitudes above the horizon at different times of year.

At sunrise, the ecliptic makes its steepest angle to the horizon at the autumn equinox – in September in the northern hemisphere, and in March in the southern hemisphere. Conversely, it meets the horizon at its shallowest angle at the spring equinox. And so, very thin crescent moons are most visible in the dawn sky in the autumn.

The inclination of the ecliptic plane to the horizon at Washington varies between 76° (sunrise at the autumn equinox) and 29° (sunrise at the spring equinox). On July 31, the ecliptic is inclined at 65° to the eastern dawn horizon.

The exact moment of last quarter

The exact moment of last quarter is defined as the time when the Moon's ecliptic longitude is exactly 90° away from the Sun's ecliptic longitude, as observed from the center of the Earth. However, the Moon does not appear in any way special at this instant in time, and a last quarter moon can be observed at any time in the pre-dawn sky.

At the moment it reaches last quarter, the Moon's distance from the Earth will be 402,000 km. Its celestial coordinates will be as follows:

Object Right Ascension Declination Constellation Angular Size
The Moon 02h26m50s 11°48'N Aries 29'40"

The coordinates above are given in J2000.0.

The sky on 31 Jul 2021

The sky on 31 July 2021
Twilight ends
Twilight begins

21-day old moon
Waning Crescent


21 days old

Rise Culm. Set
Mercury 06:29 13:36 20:43
Venus 09:19 15:48 22:17
Moon 00:39 07:23 14:16
Mars 08:27 15:08 21:49
Jupiter 21:41 03:04 08:28
Saturn 20:43 01:48 06:52
All times shown in MDT.


The circumstances of this event were computed using the DE430 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

31 Jul 2021  –  Moon at Last Quarter
08 Aug 2021  –  New Moon
15 Aug 2021  –  Moon at First Quarter
22 Aug 2021  –  Full Moon

Image credit

Simulated image courtesy of Tom Ruen.





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