Moon Phases

What is a waxing gibbous moon?

Diagram with five photos of a waxing gibbous moon at different times of day and night.
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Meiying Lee in Taipei, Taiwan, captured the images to create this moon composite across a single evening, July 18, 2021. It shows how the angle of the moon – and the color of both the moon itself and the background sky – change from when you might first spy it in late afternoon, until after midnight, when it sets. Meiying told us: “This photo is a combination of different azimuths in the sky of a waxing gibbous moon in the same night. You can observe the changes of the moon’s disk in the sky and the color of the moon in different sky.” Thank you, Meiying!

Waxing gibbous: more than half-lit, less than full

You’ll see a waxing gibbous moon between a first quarter moon and full moon. The word gibbous comes from a root word that means hump-backed.

People often see a waxing gibbous moon in the afternoon, shortly after moonrise, while it’s ascending in the east as the sun is descending in the west. Take a look at Meiying Lee’s illustration above to see the change in the angle and color of the waxing gibbous moon, as it’s visible from afternoon until after midnight. The moon at this phase is easy to see in the daytime because, at waxing gibbous moon, a respectably large fraction of the moon’s dayside faces our way.

Love the moon? Keep track of its phases for every day in 2022 with EarthSky’s lunar calendar. Going fast! Get yours now.

Photo of the moon, almost zero atmospheric turbulence, plus the moon was high by 9:40 pm
View at EarthSky Community Photos. | Point of interest on a waxing gibbous moon: Tycho is the large crater at the bottom of this image. A prominent ray system surrounds it, which you can glimpse through binoculars. Steve Price in Draper, Utah, United States, captured this photo on November 16, 2021, and wrote: “Almost fits in my phone’s frame in a single image … Almost zero atmospheric turbulence tonight plus the moon was high by 9:40 p.m.” Thank you, Steve!
Closeup of edge of shadow on moon with rim of circular dark gray area standing out.
Point of interest on a waxing gibbous moon: Sinus Iridum (Bay of Rainbows) surrounded by the Jura Mountains. Photo via Lunar 101-Moon Book in Toronto, Canada.
Lunar surface all in gray with darker smooth and lighter rough textures and round craters.
Prabhakaran Andiappan in the UAE captured this image of a waxing gibbous moon on November 16, 2018. He wrote: “Three types of landforms make up the moon’s surface: impact craters, maria, highlands. The image above depicts the large crater Plato, whose interior of the crater has smoothed over from old lava flows. A portion of Mare Imbrium [Sea of Rains] – another lava feature – is visible at the right bottom. The lunar surface features many mountains, such as Montes Alpes, which frequently border the maria or seas. Comparing the diameters of the Earth and moon, the lunar mountains are proportionally higher. Mons Pico is an isolated mountain with a height of 2,400 meters [7,900 feet]. It creates an enormous shadow in this picture which shows its height.”

Read about the moon’s phases

As the moon orbits Earth, it changes phase in an orderly way. Follow these links to understand the various phases of the moon.

New moon
Waxing crescent moon
First quarter moon
Waxing gibbous moon
Full moon
Waning gibbous moon
Last quarter moon
Waning crescent moon

Golden and russet fields below moon in light sky, twilight barely beginning.
View larger at EarthSky Community Photos. | Sharon Caton Brunson captured the waxing gibbous moon at Steptoe Butte, Washington, during the very early twilight of September 27, 2020. A gibbous moon is any moon that appears more than half lighted but less than full. Sharon wrote: “I made it just in time for golden hour as the sun sank and, to my delight, moon rose.” Thank you, Sharon!

Bottom line: A waxing gibbous moon is in the sky when darkness falls. It lights up the early evening. It appears more than half lighted, but less than full. A waxing gibbous moon comes between first quarter moon and full moon.

Read more: 4 keys to understanding moon phases

Moon phases for 2021

Check out EarthSky’s guide to the bright planets.

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January 21, 2021
Moon Phases

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Deborah Byrd

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