The new moon is the closest in nearly 1,000 years tonight

An illustration of the night sky on Jan. 21 showing the new moon.
An illustration of the night sky on Jan. 21 showing the new moon. (Image credit: Starry Night Software)

Tonight's new moon may be invisible, but that doesn't make it any less significant.

It's not often we get excited about a new moon from a skywatching perspective, given that you can't see anything from the vantage point of Earth. (New moons occur when the illuminated half of the moon is facing away from us, leaving us seeing nothing but darkness.) But tonight's new moon is a particularly special one.

It's the closest new moon to Earth since the year 1030. At 3:54 p.m. EST (2054 GMT), the moon will be exactly 221,561 miles (356,568 km) away from our planet, according to Timeanddate.com (opens in new tab), which sifted through data from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to determine the distances of every Earth-moon distance for hundreds of years. 

Related: What is the moon phase today? Lunar phases 2023

Because the moon's orbit is not perfectly circular, but elliptical, its distance from Earth changes all the time. The next time the new moon will be this close will be on Jan. 20, 2368 — and that moon will actually be 6 miles (9 km) closer than this one. By comparison, the moon's average distance is 238,855 miles (384,400 km) away.

TOP TELESCOPE PICK:

A Celestron telescope on a white background

(Image credit: Celestron)

The new moon is a great time to observe other objects in the night sky at its darkest. We recommend the Celestron Astro Fi 102 (opens in new tab) as the top pick in our best beginner's telescope guide.

Now if this moon were a full moon, we'd consider it a supermoon, which occurs when the moon is near perigee, or its closest point to Earth during its orbit, and therefore appears bigger and brighter in the sky. But since it's a new moon, the skies will be totally dark. But the tides will still be impacted by this "invisible" supermoon — Earth will experience a king tide, or an especially high tide, sometime around this date. 

But this moon is special for another reason; it marks the Lunar New Year, a major festival celebrated across Asia, particularly in China. This year is the year of the rabbit, per the Chinese zodiac, a 12-year cycle during which each year is represented by a different animal. All over Asia and in Asian communities around the world, friends and family will gather over good food and good laughs, with plenty of good luck to go around.

If you don't have all the gear you need to see the night sky up close during the new moon, our guides on the best telescopes and best binoculars are a great place to begin. If you're looking to take the best photos you can of the night sky, check out our guides on the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.

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Stefanie Waldek
Contributing writer

Space.com contributing writer Stefanie Waldek is a self-taught space nerd and aviation geek who is passionate about all things spaceflight and astronomy. With a background in travel and design journalism, as well as a Bachelor of Arts degree from New York University, she specializes in the budding space tourism industry and Earth-based astrotourism. In her free time, you can find her watching rocket launches or looking up at the stars, wondering what is out there. Learn more about her work at www.stefaniewaldek.com (opens in new tab).