The new moon occurs on Friday, April 5, at 4:50 a.m. EDT (0450 GMT). During this lunar phase, you won't see the moon in the night sky, but there are plenty of other celestial treats to look for!
The new moon is the lunar phase that occurs when the moon is directly between the Earth and sun. This happens about every 29.5 days, at which point the two bodies share the same celestial longitude. This alignment is also called a conjunction.
Because the sunlit side of the moon is facing away from Earth at the new moon, it is not visible from ground-based observers unless the moon passes in front of the sun, as happens during solar eclipses. It's possible to see the moon a day or two before or after the new phase, when it appears as a very thin crescent. In addition, one can see the dark part of the moon faintly illuminated. This is called "earthshine" and is a reflection of light from the Earth onto the lunar surface. An astronaut standing on the moon would see a "full" Earth, shining brightly on the lunar night side.
While you may not be able to see the moon on Friday, the night sky will still be filled with planets and constellations you can check out — weather permitting, of course.
Among the planets, Mars will be in the southwestern sky in the evening, right beside the Pleiades star cluster. The Red Planet sets at 11:31 p.m. in New York City. The other planets don't rise until after midnight. Jupiter, for example, rises on April 6 at 12:55 a.m., and Saturn follows at 2:45 a.m. Jupiter is in the constellation Ophiuchus, while Saturn is in Sagittarius. Those two planets will be visible before sunrise. You can find out when the planets are visible from your location using timeanddate.com's night-sky calculator.
On the night of the new moon, observers in mid-northern latitudes will see the winter sky constellations giving way to those of springtime. Shortly after sunset, Orion, Taurus, Gemini, and Canis Major — all winter constellations in the Northern Hemisphere — will be well above the southern horizon. Virgo, a spring constellation, will be rising in the east, with its brightest star Spica just peeking over the horizon. Leo the lion will be halfway up the sky in the east, with its brightest star, Regulus, marking the lion's chest. As the night progresses, the summer zodiac constellations — Scorpius, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius — get higher in the sky, and Capricornus is rising by about 4 a.m. local time.
Just before sunrise on April 6, New York City observers will be able to catch Venus, and with some luck and a clear, flat horizon, Mercury. Venus is the first to rise, just south of east, at 5:21 a.m. Mercury follows at 5:37 a.m., or about one hour before sunrise. So, neither planet will get more than a few degrees above the horizon before the sky becomes too bright to see them – this is especially true of Mercury, which 30 minutes before sunrise is only about 4 degrees above the horizon. Venus isn't much higher, only about 7 degrees.
Skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere and northern tropics will have an easier time spotting Venus and Mercury on the new moon night, because farther south the plane of the ecliptic (where the planets roam) appears to meet the horizon at a steeper angle.
From San Juan, Puerto Rico — where the sun rises at 6:17 a.m. local time — Mercury and Venus rise at 4:56 a.m. and 4:35 a.m., respectively. Mercury is about 12 degrees above the horizon 30 minutes before sunrise; Venus is at about 17 degrees. The situation is even better in Buenos Aires, where the sun rises at 7:09 a.m.; at 6:39 a.m., when civil twilight begins, Mercury will be nearly 20 degrees above the horizon, and Venus will be at an altitude of 26 degrees, according to heavens-above.com calculations.
After the new moon, the waxing crescent moon will grace the evening sky, with the "horns" of the moon pointing east.
On Tuesday (April 9), it will make a close pass to Mars, which will be in the constellation Taurus. According to NASA's Skycal, the moment when the two enter conjunction — sharing the same celestial longitude — will be at 2:40 a.m. in New York City. For those on the U.S. East Coast, the two will both be below the horizon when they are closest, but after sunset one can see them both make a rough triangle with Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, in the southwestern sky.
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