Why You Should Look at the Moon When It’s Not Full

Why You Should Look at the Moon When It’s Not Full
Photo: AstroStar, Shutterstock

Regular Lifehacker readers will know that we’re big fans of space, and frequently post about upcoming astronomical events, including full moons, meteor showers, and interest planet alignments.

Let’s go back to the moon for a second. When it’s full (and the skies are clear), there’s usually at least one notable feature — like it being a certain colour or size, or just exceptionally bright. But it doesn’t disappear for the rest of the month: In fact, the best times to get a relatively decent look at the surface of the moon is when it’s not full. Here’s what to know.

Get to know the moon when it’s not full

During a full moon, Earth faces the moon, while the sun is positioned behind Earth, shining directly down on the lunar surface. This means that the shadows on the surface of the moon are minimal, and you can’t see much detail. Plus, when the moon is full, it can look one-dimensional, and be uncomfortably bright to look at.

So when’s the best time to look at the moon? According to the Farmer’s Almanac, that would be around the time the moon is in its first or last quarter phases, and the best views of the lunar landscape — including craters, mountains, and clefts — are along the sunrise-sunset line.

Try using daytime vision

To get a better glimpse of the moon between its quarter and full phases, the editors of Astronomy Magazine have a suggestion: Turn a moderately bright white light (around 60-watts) on behind you.

“The addition of white light suppresses the eyes’ tendency to dark adapt at night,” they write. “Not dark adapting causes the eye to use normal daytime vision, which is of higher quality than dark-adapted night vision. So, you’ll see more detail because you’re viewing with a better part of your eye.”

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