July's Last Quarter Moon Is Coming This Weekend

When the Moon hits your eye like half a pizza pie, that's a quarter moon.
When the Moon hits your eye like half a pizza pie, that's a quarter moon.
halfbottle/iStock via Getty Images

If you scan the sky after the sun sets this Sunday, July 12, you’ll see this month’s last quarter moon. And if you’re a novice sky-gazer, you might be surprised to find that half—not a quarter—of the moon is illuminated.

The name isn’t related to how much of the moon is visible, but rather, which phase of its monthly orbit around Earth it’s currently in. The Old Farmer’s Almanac suggests picturing the cycle like a baseball diamond: A new moon (which you can’t see at all) is home plate; a first quarter moon is first base; a full moon is second base; and a third (or last) quarter moon is third base. In other words, the last quarter moon marks the last quarter of the cycle before we get another new moon. And since we can see half of it, it’s sometimes colloquially called a half moon.

The Moon, Earth's biggest curveball.VectorMine/iStock via Getty Images

As EarthSky reports, July’s last quarter moon hits its peak at 7:29 p.m. EDT on Sunday night, but you can wait until the sky gets darker for a clearer view. Though it’s not the last last quarter moon of the year, this one is extra special. Since it peaks just four hours after the lunar apogee—the point in the moon’s orbit when it’s farthest from Earth—July’s last quarter moon will be farther from the Earth than any other quarter moon this year.

It won’t appear noticeably dimmer or more distant to the naked eye, but it’s still a cool fact to mention to whomever happens to be around on Sunday night. On the following nights, you can watch the waning crescent grow slimmer and slimmer until the moon disappears completely on July 20 and starts the cycle over again.

[h/t EarthSky]

Friday’s Best Amazon Deals Include Digital Projectors, Ugly Christmas Sweaters, and Speakers

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As a recurring feature, our team combs the web and shares some amazing Amazon deals we’ve turned up. Here’s what caught our eye today, December 4. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers, including Amazon, and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Good luck deal hunting!

Don't Miss Saturn And Jupiter's Great Conjunction on the Winter Solstice

Paul Williams, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Paul Williams, Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

In 2020, skygazers were treated to meteor showers, a new comet, and a Halloween blue moon. One of the last major astronomical events of the year is set to fall on the night of the winter solstice. On December 21, look up to catch Saturn in conjunction with Jupiter.

What is the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter?

In astronomy, a conjunction occurs when two planets appear exceptionally close in the night sky. Two of our solar system's gas giants will share a celestial "kiss" on the longest night of the year. The rare meeting of Saturn and Jupiter is known as the "great conjunction" by astronomers.

Though conjunctions between the planets are fairly common, Saturn and Jupiter only get together once in a generation. Their last conjunction happened 20 years ago in the year 2000. Even if you were around for the last one, 2020's planetary meet-up is worth catching. Saturn and Jupiter will come within 0.1° of each other, or about one-fifth the width of a full moon. The last time the two planets came that close was in 1653, and they won't match that proximity again until 2080.

How to see the conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter

Saturn and Jupiter have been inching closer throughout October and November. You can find them now by looking for Jupiter, currently the brightest planet in the night sky, right after sunset. Saturn will appear just east of Jupiter as a dimmer planet with a golden hue.

As autumn wanes, the two planets will gradually bridge the space between them until they reach conjunction on winter solstice. On Monday, December 21, the planets will be so close that they may form a coalescence. That happens when the light from two planets appear to shine as a single star. When that happens, the super-bright body will be easy to spot.